Patent Record Broken 2 Years in a Row

three smiling researchersPitt innovators have been issued a total of 92 U.S. patents through May, already surpassing the previous record of 80.

A virus used in cancer immunotherapy, a vision-saving eye treatment discovery and a new weapon against drug-resistant bacteria are among the record number of University of Pittsburgh–developed innovations that have received U.S. patents in fiscal year 2017, which ends June 30.

“The growing culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among Pitt faculty and students is reflected in the significant uptick in the number of patents issued over the past three years for innovations that have the potential to make a significant impact in the world,” said Marc Malandro, founding director of Pitt’s Innovation Institute.

Patents are a crucial element in moving academic research to the marketplace, where it can make a difference in the world. Without the economic protection a patent provides, there is little incentive for companies to invest time and risk large amounts of money to further develop early stage discoveries into technologies, products or life-saving treatments.

Several of the impactful discoveries that received patents this fiscal year are being commercially developed through licensing agreements and new startup companies, including:

  • Joseph Glorioso’s technology for genetically modifying the herpes simplex virus to target cancer cells and induce immune response. The technology has been licensed by Massachusetts-based biotech startup Oncorus. The company raised $61 million last year to develop this cancer-fighting immunotherapy. Glorioso is a faculty member in the Pitt School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics.
  • Drug treatment that reverses excessive blood vessel growth and prevents excessive wound healing known as fibrosis, which are leading causes of vision loss in patients with eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration. The therapy is based on a discovery developed by researchers Alan Wells of the School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology and Cecelia Yates of the School of Nursing (pictured above). Their research into the role of antifibrotic proteins in wound healing resulted in the development of peptide fragments that can be used to prevent vision loss. The innovation was licensed to startup Ocugenix, which recently received funding from Innovation Works to help advance to clinical trials that could begin as soon as 2018.
  • Ronald Montelaro’s technology has been commercialized as the Pittsburgh-based startup Peptilogics, which is developing antibiotics to counter drug-resistant bacteria. Montelaro is professor emeritus in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. 

Along with the record-breaking fiscal year, in an overlapping measure of the University’s increasing strength in innovation, Pitt advanced into the top third of the Top 100 Worldwide Universities Granted U.S. Utility Patents Ranking for 2016.

Pitt moved up eight slots from last year to rank No. 27 — topping Duke University, Yale University and other top research institutions. The National Academy of Inventors and Intellectual Property Owners Association have published the ranking annually since 2013 to highlight the important role patents play in university research and innovation.  

Those rankings are compiled by calculating the number of utility patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that list a university as the first assignee. Utility patents are issued for the invention of a new or improved useful process, machine, manufacture or composition of matter and generally permit the owner to exclude others from making, using or selling the invention for a period of up to 20 years.