Release Date: June 6, 2008
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo has created an annual UB Faculty Entrepreneur Award to recognize faculty who demonstrate the vision and perseverance to translate their discoveries and inventions into products that save lives, relieve suffering or otherwise improve the well-being of individuals and communities.
"The purpose of the award is to encourage entrepreneurial spirit among faculty and students at UB," said Robert J. Genco, UB vice provost and director of the Office of Science, Technology and Economic Outreach (STOR). "Our UB 2020 mission is designed to impact not only academics at UB but community and society in general and, especially, the regional economy."
The first UB Faculty Entrepreneur Award was presented today at UB Business Partners Day 2008 to Edmund Egan, president and chief executive officer of ONY, Inc., and UB professor of pediatrics, physiology and biophysics, and co-inventor Bruce Holm, executive director of UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and UB professor of pediatrics, gynecology-obstetrics and pharmacology. Both are faculty members in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Egan and Holm formed ONY, Inc., in 1985 based on the work of academic scientists from UB, the University of Rochester and the University of Western Ontario. ONY was the first tenant in UB's Technology Incubator in Amherst, where the company still is based today. The company was formed to commercialize InfaSurf, (calfactant) a lung surfactant Egan and Holm developed to prevent respiratory distress in premature babies, which in some cases can be fatal.
Infasurf was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and has been on the market since 1999. More than 250,000 premature babies throughout the U.S. have received InfaSurf to assist their breathing in the first critical hours after birth. Some of them owe their very survival to this product developed by UB researchers.
"This product is a good example of the fruits of the discovery of two UB faculty members who have made major contributions to society by becoming entrepreneurs," said Genco. "This discovery could very well have sat on a shelf somewhere as a scientific publication or a patent. It took a special, extraordinary effort on the parts of Egan and Holm to develop the commercial process and do the proper studies required for FDA approval, which are quite onerous. But they persevered; they went out and raised the funds they needed to perform those studies."
Egan and Holm, according to Genco, are scholar-entrepreneurs committed to excellence in research and who possess a gift for recognizing the potential for a product that could be developed from their research. They also are superior teachers, he said.
"They have not rested on their first success. They have developed an adult version of surfactant that has great promise for treating asthma," added Genco.
That product, now in Phase III clinical trials, could be a significant advance for people who suffer from acute and dangerous episodes of respiratory failure.
"We had the fortune of having multiple forms of expertise represented on the team of scientists who developed InfaSurf, including individuals with world-class basic science expertise," Egan said. "Our team also featured individuals with clinical research expertise and individuals who had 'business' expertise insofar as academic medicine is an integral part of the business of health care in a community."
Egan added that the synergy between the scientific team based at UB and ONY's pharmaceutical partner, Forest Laboratories, also contributed to the company's success.
As for the perseverance required to pursue commercialization, Egan said that neither he nor Holm ever wavered in the belief that InfaSurf should be widely available.
"We knew that our basic science demonstrated that the lung surfactant replacement product we developed had important features that were missing from similar products developed by others," he said. "I considered it important that patients have access to a product that the science said was optimal."
Other scientists involved in the development of InfaSurf were Goran Enhorning, UB professor emeritus of gynecology and obstetrics; Melinda Stanfield, formerly UB professor of pediatrics; Fred Possmayer, a biochemist at the University of Western Ontario; and Robert H. Notter, professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.