Emory Celebrates its Inventors

Staff Report

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022

Faculty who advanced the innovation enterprise with their discoveries recently were honored by Emory University’s Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) at its 16th Annual Celebration of Technology and Innovation. The ceremony was held in person for the first time since COVID-19.

Three new awards were added this year — for corporate partnerships, female entrepreneurship, and inclusion, diversity and equity — taking the total number of categories to seven.

Read about the winning work here and visit the OTT website for interviews with the winners.

Innovation of the year

KeyStrike: Securing communications from an untrusted computer

Ýmir Vigfússon

Modern cybersecurity is unable to detect if an end-user is physically sitting at an authorized device, or if it has been compromised by a hacker seeking to gain further access into a remote server. To help address this issue, Vigfússon developed “KeyStrike”, a small USB device that connects to the USB port of a computer. When an end-user enters a key on their keyboard, KeyStrike will forward the keystroke with additional keystrokes. If the server receives a keystroke from the user without the corresponding additional characters, it can be known immediately that the computer may be compromised. Without access to the secret key, the hack would be detected with overwhelming probability.

Deal of the year

License with Eli Lilly & Company: Specific JAK inhibitors as potential antiviral agents

Raymond Schinazi, PhD; Christina Gavegnano, PhD

The COVID-19 pandemic has left a devastating impact throughout the world, putting pressure on hospitals and health care systems everywhere. At many times, hospitals found themselves overwhelmed with severely ill COVID-19 patients in need of care. Schinazi and Gavegnano  originally intended for this therapeutic to treat HIV with reduced likelihood of resistance and an enhanced safety profile. However, through more research, it was discovered that baricitinib could be used to treat COVID-19 in individuals who require supplemental oxygen or a ventilator. In November 2020, baricitinib was given Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In 2021, Emory University entered into a non-exclusive license agreement with Eli Lilly & Company to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients with baricitinib.

Start-up of the year

Cambium Medical Technologies: Preparation and usage of heparin-conjugated fibrinogen- depleted pooled human platelet lysate for regenerative medicine

Edmund Waller, MD, PhD; John Roback, MD, PhD

Cambium Medical Technologies was founded in 2013 by four professionals from Emory University. They are focused on developing and commercializing regenerative therapeutics created from novel processed human platelets. Since the licensing of the Emory technology in 2014, Cambium Medical Technologies has successfully completed a Phase 1 and 2 FDA dry eye clinical study for their product Elate Ocular®. In 2021, Cambium received approval from the FDA to begin two Phase 3 clinical trials for their biologic.

Significant event of the year

FDA emergency use authorization of molnupiravir

Gregory Bluemling, PhD; George Painter III, PhD; Michael Natchus, PhD; David Guthrie, PhD; David Perryman, JD

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an incredibly large strain across the globe. Molnupiravir, an antiviral oral therapeutic against certain RNA viruses, was invented at Emory through the Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory (DRIVE). The therapeutic was sub-licensed to Ridgeback Biotherapeutics in 2020. It was found that molnupiravir could treat mild to moderate COVID-19 infections in those who are at a high risk for hospitalization or death, with the goal of keeping COVID-19 patients out of the hospital. In December 2021, the FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization of molnupiravir for the treatment of COVID-19.

Corporate partnership of the year

Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx)

Wilbur Lam, MD, PhD; Greg Martin, MD; Julie Sullivan

In 2020, Emory University, along with other partners, received a $31 million federal grant from the National Institutes of Health for the purpose of rapidly transforming innovative technologies into easily accessible diagnostic tests for COVID-19. Researchers at Emory, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Georgia Institute of Technology were selected to lead a national effort in testing validation under the umbrella of the RADx program. More than 100 companies participated with RADx to get their tests validated, de-risked, and deployed to market. RADx has since expanded to meet the needs created by the increasing number of variants and the shortage of available tests available to the public, bringing in a total of $64 million of funding. The efforts of the RADx program have helped facilitate FDA authorization for 41 diagnostic tests and have increased testing capacity in the U.S. by more than one billion. Emory OTT provides ongoing support for RADx by efficiently managing the more than 75 research contracts needed to continue their collaborative work with industry and academic partner organizations.

EmpowHER award

Chemo/immuno precision medicine software app for leukemia

Nicki Panoskaltsis, MD, PhD

The Emory community is proud to have some of the most cutting-edge research teams led by women. Female scientists at Emory are responsible for a variety of innovative discoveries in biomedical sciences and technology. Some of their inventions have had profound positive impact on the scientific community and society. Panoskaltis and a team of researchers have developed an algorithm that utilizes patient, leukemia and treatment-specific data from standard clinical chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments. Her goal is to dynamically predict disease progression before, during and after treatment, as well as optimize treatment outcomes through the personalization of drug selection, dosage and schedule.

Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity award (IDEAward)

Interleukin-37 enhances the effectiveness of car t-cell therapy

Curtis Henry, PhD; Sunil Raikar, MD; Sarwish Rafiq, PhD

A diverse team of researchers at Emory have developed IL-37-expressing CAR T-cells to treat B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. These cells not only boost the function of aged T-cells, but also enhance the effectiveness of CAR T-cell therapy. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a highly aggressive type of leukemia and requires very early treatment. Unfortunately, CAR T-cell therapy leads to unsustainable remissions in many patients, and major toxicity due to cytokine release syndrome. Inventor Henry also serves on the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Advancement committee within the Cancer Biology graduate program. The goal of the scientists on this project is to take a proactive stance in the creation of an academic environment that is inclusive, welcoming, and celebrates contributions of brilliant scientists from underrepresented groups.