Michigan University-Business Network Sparks Medical Research

Michigan University-Business Network Sparks Medical Research
May 27, 2013/The Detroit News

By Kim Kozlowski

Plymouth — Tucked inside an incubator lab here, a startup company has developed technology aimed at helping researchers discover better treatments for cancer, and eventually offering patients a less-invasive alternative to a biopsy.

The device, created by DeNovo Sciences Inc., uses blood drawn from a patient to identify rare blood cells with information about the cancer.

The technology has since found its way into a clinical setting at Karmanos Cancer Institute. There, a Wayne State University researcher has started experiments using the device with blood from cancer patients to help DeNovo improve the product.

The business-research collaboration was made possible through a grant awarded by Michigan Corporate Relations Network, an alliance of six of the state's 15 public universities. The network's goal is to bolster academia's role in the economy by making it easier for small Michigan businesses to partner with public research universities.

So far, seven grants totaling more than $200,000 have been awarded, and eight more are to be announced this week at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

"Collaboration is so important," said Kalyan Handique, CEO of DeNovo, recipient of $27,750, one of the first grants. "And funding is always important for startups until we start generating revenue."

The network is thought to be the first of its kind in the nation. It formed in 2011 with $1.8 million from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the Michigan Strategic Fund Board.

The network also wants to make research affordable for small businesses, open pathways for student internships and permanent jobs, and enhance growth in the state's economy.

'Can be a win-win situation'

Daryl Weinert, associate vice president for research at the University of Michigan, said it's critical that universities offer their trove of expertise and resources to businesses and respond to their needs. Doing so can contribute to businesses' growth and productivity and enhance teaching and research at the state's universities.

"The overriding purpose is to improve the connections between the research universities and small businesses in the state," said Weinert. "It's akin to a sales force at the university. Universities haven't always felt that way, but they have a product: the expertise, the students, the researchers, the technology. These resources are there and you can make a case that both sides coming to the table can be a win-win situation."

The network includes U-M in Ann Arbor and Dearborn, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, Western Michigan University and Michigan Technological University.

Network sets goals

Together, the six universities represent a wide geographic area and more than $1.8 billion in research expenditures, or about 98 percent of academic research in the state.

The network has created six programs to further its goals, such as establishing business engagement offices at each of the universities and an internship award program for small businesses to bring in students.

Another key program involves grants ranging from $10,000 to $40,000 to pair small businesses with university researchers.

Ann Arbor-based PicoCal Inc. received a $40,000 grant to support research at U-M to improve a system that the company is developing for nanostructures, which are microscopic objects. Angelo Gaitas, PicoCal president, said the grant gives the researcher additional funding to propel the product's development.

"They have the expertise," Gaitas said. "They have also developed similar technologies. They will help us reach better capabilities for our product."

There are a lot of small companies that could be working with the universities but many don't know how, said Lorelei Davis, associate director of MSU Business-CONNECT, and coordinator of the grant program.

"We're trying to make it so companies that have never worked with universities can," Davis said.

"If they start building relationships with professors and students, hopefully they will (eventually) hire the students."

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

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