An ambitious, six-month-old effort by Pittsburgh academic and medical institutions to hotwire the commercialization of science is off to a robust start, with three startup companies awarded seed funding.
Michael Becich, director of the Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data at the University of Pittsburgh, told attendees at the Biomedical Breakfast Tuesday in South Oakland that the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance collaborative has received 51 proposals from entrepreneurs, with three projects winning financial support since July.
Receiving funding were software programs developed at Pitt that analyze digital pathology images, reduce falls through predictive modeling, and prevent pressure ulcers from forming through sensors and early detection.
“There’s going to be a lot of investment brought to the community,” Dr. Becich said. “We’re already overwhelmed.”
Grant amounts were not disclosed.
As part of an alliance connecting Pitt, Carnegie Mellon University and UPMC, Dr. Becich is at the forefront of the effort to commercialize discoveries by university faculty and others in building an entrepreneurial economy in the Pittsburgh region, serving the same role that heavy industry and medicine have in the past.
UPMC is funding the projects for six years through UPMC Enterprises, the Pittsburgh hospital giant’s commercialization arm.
Pitt has some catching up to do. The university reported just $133 million in intellectual property licensing revenue between 2012 and 2014, earning it a ranking of 52 among academic centers nationwide, according to a metric developed by Dr. Becich.
He told a standing-room only crowd at the event that he is aiming for an eventual 10-fold increase in university licensing revenue through amped-up commercialization of intellectual property.
Sponsoring the Tuesday event was the Pittsburgh Technology Council and Uptown-based biotech company Promethean LifeSciences Inc.
In addition to startup company proposals, the collaboration is looking for promising technologies amid 10,000 faculty inventions that were disclosed as a matter of routine over the past decade. In the future, even Pitt students will be allowed to own and profit from intellectual property, something that is prohibited now, Dr. Becich said.
Among the Center for Commercial Applications’ areas of focus will be medical treatments tailored to the individual patient and ways to capture data and health care analytics. Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Machine Learning and Health is also a partner in the alliance’s commercialization efforts.
Universities nationwide are searching for new revenue sources as federal research money flatlines, according to Christopher Molineaux, president and CEO of Wayne, Pa.-based Pennsylvania Bio, an advocacy and educational group.
“They’re all recognizing the reality that there’s less NIH funding coming over the transom,” Mr. Molineaux said. “It’s not unique to Pittsburgh. It’s really a national trend.”