Coblitz reflects on the office’s decade of success, new opportunities and GW's growing culture of innovation.
The Office of the Provost has appointed Brian Coblitz to be the new executive director of George Washington University’s Technology Commercialization Office (TCO).
TCO promotes and facilitates the transfer of technology developed at GW for the benefit of the university community and the public while leveraging GW resources by partnering with industry experts and entrepreneurs. Coblitz, who was previously interim director of the office and managed licensing for GW's life science technologies for nine years, has been with TCO since 2012.
“What we do is take technologies from the lab to the world,” Coblitz said. “We want technology developed at GW to make an impact, and one way we can achieve that is by supporting product development, securing patents and getting people engaged with this process very early.”
The TCO often works with researchers for years, a collaboration between the office and the inventors to work together and keep driving toward product development and prototyping to ultimately partner with businesses to address society’s needs.
"The Technology Commercialization Office has made impressive strides over the last several years in commercializing our researchers' technology and ensuring maximum impact of their inventions, and Brian's leadership has been a major factor of that success,” said Provost Christopher Alan Bracey. “I look forward to seeing the office continue to grow and promote innovation and entrepreneurship at the university."
According to Coblitz, the office provides a number of services and resources for faculty, including developing strategies for protecting intellectual property (IP) and managing external IP attorneys to file patents and copyrights. The office connects GW innovators with experienced entrepreneurs and businesses, handles licensing of GW technologies to external partners and manages those long-term relationships. The office also advises on agreements with industry partners who wish to provide direct financial support to GW research teams, a common way that licensing leads to early impact for faculty.
“We’re energized by the amazing research that faculty from various schools here at GW are involved in and want to help our researchers realize the full potential for that work to benefit society," Coblitz said. "We realize ‘tech commercialization’ can be a very mysterious thing to some, and many faculty might feel the commercialization path isn't for them.
“We're here to help dispel some of that mystery and guide faculty through the process. In most cases, the work faculty did to prepare their research for publication is enough to adequately describe their invention and enable our attorneys to draft a patent application. We have an experienced team of licensing managers and administrators who strive to provide excellent customer service for researchers and companies."
Record of success
The TCO is on track to have its most productive fiscal year in history, Coblitz said. The TCO team has completed 13 deals so far, an increase over the past two fiscal years when nine were completed each year—previous records.
In fiscal year 2020, GW ranked 10th among U.S. universities for gross licensing income in research expenditures, a designation Coblitz called “a pretty special accomplishment.” GW also ranked 22nd for gross licensing income, according to a licensing survey from AUTM, the leading association in technology transfer.
“These are the things that can really elevate the name of George Washington University throughout the region and the world when people see products and ideas that came out of our labs,” Coblitz said.
By working with the TCO, GW researchers have access to numerous resources to ensure their innovations have the greatest impact.
Successful ventures include TCO’s work with Milken Institute School of Public Health professor Lorien Abroms to support Text2Quit, a texting service designed to help users quit smoking and provide them with motivation and tools to stay away from tobacco. Abroms’ copyright was licensed and has helped thousands of people quit smoking.
The office also worked with Akos Vertes, a professor of chemistry in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, to patent and license the rights to his method for high throughput analysis of biomolecules in living tissue to Protea Biosciences. His collaborative university/industry team received more than $14 million in funding to develop an approach for rapidly identifying the root of biological and chemical threats.
In 2021 it was announced that GIAPREZA™, a drug developed at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences used to increase dangerously low blood pressure in life-threatening situations, had been sublicensed to treat patients in Europe—expanding worldwide access to the treatment. GW entered into a worldwide licensing agreement with La Jolla Pharmaceutical Company in 2014 for intellectual property rights for the drug.
GW sold a portion of its royalty rights to GIAPREZA™ in 2019, allowing the university to reinvest significant funds into strategic priorities in academics, research and innovation, including the Technology Maturation Awards. With the GIAPREZA royalties, TCO established the awards as part of this ongoing effort to provide early-stage support for faculty working toward innovations with promising commercial potential and societal impact. This spring, four approximately $50,000 awards have been given to GW faculty to support unlicensed, GW-owned inventions promising commercial potential and societal impact.
This year’s awardees are Zurab Nadareishvili from the GW Medical Faculty Associates and Rohan Fernandes from SMHS for a vaccine for stroke prevention; John Hawdon from SMHS for a system to test treatments against drug resistant canine hookworms; Saniya LeBlanc from the School of Engineering and Applied Science for laser additive manufacturing of a thermoelectric energy conversion system; and Mark Reeves from CCAS, Rahul Simha from SEAS and Chen Zeng from CCAS for Air-Q: indoor air quality sensing and mitigation.
“The Technology Maturation Awards have been a really successful program so far,” Coblitz said. “That’s something we’re going to be able to continue for a number of years thanks to the funding from the monetization.”
Recipients of the Technology Maturation Award, include professors Mona Zaghloul and Jeanne A. Jordan, who developed a miniature device that could enable public health professionals to immediately diagnose and track COVID-19 infection using cell phones. After receiving the award, they licensed their technology and entered a sponsored research agreement with the licensee to support further development.
The TCO is preparing to launch a new funding program, the GW TCO SBIR Matching Fund, which will provide up to $100,000 per award for internal GW research and help startups work together with GW researchers to develop innovations licensed from GW. The first awards will be available in fiscal year 2023, Coblitz said. Once again, funds for the awards will come from the monetization of a portion of the GIAPREZA™ United States royalties.
“The combination of the Technology Maturation Awards with the SBIR Matching Fund will provide finances to help with validation and prototyping of GW innovations at many stages along the product development process,” Coblitz said. “The goal is to maintain and improve on our track record of being a very easy office with which to collaborate for both inventors and companies.”
The TCO will provide additional details on applicant requirements at a later date.
Over the past decade, the TCO has worked with many GW faculty to bring research innovations to the marketplace and forge new connections. The office maintains a database featuring the large array of technologies available for licensing, and companies are able to subscribe for updates. TCO also supports the GW Commercialization Advising Network (GW CAN), connecting entrepreneurs, inventors and investors to exchange help, support, advice and resources.
GW inventors will have the opportunity to showcase their ideas and vie for $40,000 in prizes at the TCO Innovation Competition on April 6. The event provides a forum for idea sharing among GW researchers, entrepreneurs and members of the venture community, as well as the opportunity to present technologies to a panel of judges including experienced entrepreneurs, investors and industry professionals. In previous years, finalists have gone on to license and commercialize their technologies after presenting at this event.
TCO is excited to showcase this year’s Innovation Competition finalists, Coblitz said. For the life science track, TCO will feature presentations from the laboratories of professors Michael Keidar on a plasma discharge tube device for treating brain tumors and Lijie Grace Zhang on a 3D bioprinted heart patch. For the physical science and engineering track, TCO will feature presentations from the laboratories of professors Guru Venkataramani on a hardware-based cyber deception design to fight malware and Adelina Voutchkova on low-cost renewable jet fuel.
Notably, graduate students are co-inventors of all four finalists. Graduate student participation in the commercialization process provides valuable experience that can help them land jobs post-graduation or launch a startup company, Coblitz said. The event’s keynote speaker, Benjamin Holmes, invented medical devices as a student researcher in Zhang’s lab. He became CEO and co-founder of Nanochon, which is developing that device into a product.
The event, held in Science and Engineering Hall’s Lehman Auditorium, is open to the GW community.
Members of the GW research community interested in discussing potential next steps of commercializing your innovation should contact the TCO for more information.