Leveraging Spin-Out Companies to Support Global Health

By Erik Iverson
April 9, 2014

Recently IPWatchdog.com published an article that cited the work we do at the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI) as an example of how dedicated individuals and corporations can work together to transform science into global health solutions. By integrating capabilities, we strive to create an efficient pathway to bring scientific innovation from the lab to the people who need it most.

I write today to explain more about what IDRI does and why leveraging spin-out companies supports global health initiatives.

One of the most important engines in populating and growing the life sciences sector within the United States is the practice of universities spinning out new technologies into startup biotechnology companies. This, in turn, drives the development of new drugs, vaccines and other much-needed health products.

The U.S. Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 permits universities, small businesses and non-profit institutions to own inventions arising out of federally funded research. The very purpose of the Bayh-Dole Act was to counteract the economic stagnation of the 1970s by allowing inventors to leverage their inventions to generate licensing revenues. It also permitted private industry to obtain the technology license rights and drive development of innovative products to the marketplace.  Today, most universities have technology transfer offices to license out new technologies into both established and newly-created biotechnology companies.  Many drugs, vaccines and other health products that save lives and improve the health of people around the world are a direct result of these licensing and spin-out activities.

IDRI has chosen to follow this proven model with the aim of facilitating the further development of its technologies into life-saving products, as well as generate licensing revenues to compliment grant funds used by IDRI to support its global health mission.  IDRI, a 501(c)(3) Seattle-based, non-profit organization founded in 1993, is dedicated to the development of diagnostics, drugs and vaccines for devastating infectious diseases – with internal product discovery and development programs in tuberculosis, leishmaniasis and leprosy.  IDRI’s distinctive competency is in the area of developing and formulating world class adjuvants, which have broad applicability to a wide range of diseases and are key to efficacious, low-cost vaccines.

With the breadth of its widely applicable diagnostic and vaccine technologies, IDRI has taken the opportunity to spin out certain applications into start-up biotechnology companies while reserving necessary rights to continue the development of products for global health.  The rights that IDRI has spun out are for such health concerns as cancer and allergy, which tend to attract private capital to support product development within the new biotechnology companies.  The benefits to IDRI are twofold.  First, IDRI is able to garner licensing revenues which it uses to support its programs in tuberculosis, leishmaniasis and leprosy; accordingly, all such revenues are used to support IDRI’s charitable mission.  Second, the scientific studies conducted by the new biotechnology companies and funded by private investment have provided critically important data and information used by IDRI to strengthen its own global health programs.

For example, IDRI granted license rights to its world-class vaccine adjuvants to Immune Design Corporation (IDC), which was established in Seattle in 2008 with a focus on cancer, allergies and certain infectious diseases.  The royalties and other funds received from IDC have helped to support IDRI’s programs, and IDC’s clinical safety data relating to the adjuvants have been vital in IDRI’s ability to accelerate the development of vaccines for tuberculosis and leishmaniasis, two diseases with an immense global health burden.

Following the lead of universities, IDRI continues to seek new opportunities to spin out its technologies in order to support the achievement of its primary goal – to transform our science into global health solutions.

The Author

Erik Iverson

Erik Iverson

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