The Technology Transfer Office exists to propel the development of novel treatments for patients.
Versiti Blood Research Institute is a hub of discovery and innovation. Every day, investigators from more than 35 countries work to find better treatments and cures for a variety of diseases, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell disease and many more. In her role, Technology Transfer Officer Laura Savatski helps translate scientific discoveries from the lab into innovations that will impact patients. She manages the patenting of these discoveries, as well as partnerships with outside companies that help bring new ideas to the market. “Organizations sometimes make surprising discoveries,” she said. “My job is to help understand and make something of that hard work.”
Protecting Versiti’s intellectual property
One crucial component of making the most of a new discovery is applying for patent protection. “We know the patent system works to drive innovation forward. Think about where we would be without it,” said Savatski, who also serves as the chair of AUTM, the world’s leading technology transfer association. “Would inventors share their technologies in a public document like a patent application, which gives step-by-step instructions for their creation, if they could not protect the sizable investment in development of the idea? Or would they instead hold this knowledge privately, stifling development and reducing the ability for those in need to get help? Think of how many innovations of the last few hundred years would have never come to light without patents.”
Currently, Versiti holds hundreds of patents in the U.S. and foreign countries. These patents read like a detailed recipe and method to practice an innovative procedure. In exchange for telling the world how something works, the government gives ownership of the intellectual rights for 20 years. During that time, Versiti may license the technology to partner organizations to help develop new diagnostics, materials or therapies. “A license is like a lease to use the patent, which is public knowledge—it’s all out there,” Savatski said. “But the license allows another organization to make, use or sell your claimed inventions.”
But many people have mixed emotions about patents, especially when it comes to widespread diseases like COVID-19. During the pandemic, many wondered whether researchers should avoid patenting COVID-related technology and be given free rein to do whatever possible to stop the spread of the disease. “There’s quite a bit of danger in that, because technologies like mRNA vaccines would not have been possible in the first place without the patent system. Patents incentivize investments in technology so that we have more of it,” Savatski said.
“It’s not a problem with access to patented technology that is the most pressing issue here, but broad and equitable access to health care for the sick, access to know-how, a workforce to aid a high-tech manufacturing process, trade protocols, and the sourcing of short-supply products to make vaccines that will help us combat this crisis,” she continued.
The process of developing innovations is relationship- and partnership-intensive. Once a research discovery is determined to be patentable, Savatski works with an attorney to issue the patent. At the same time, a search for partners to develop the innovation is launched. “Partners can take many forms,” she said. “They can be a small business that wants to create a new product, or they can be an established business that understands a particular market well and has already created similar products. Or, they can be an innovator themselves that wants to start a business to advance the discovery.”
How Versiti partners comes down to the research discovery itself. Typically, improvements to existing therapies are better managed with established businesses with expertise in that particular area. Brand-new therapies, however, function better in start-up businesses with the ability to recruit investors interested in proving and improving technology. “The partnering piece is a big deal,” Savatski said. “We have to figure out the best route and who is in the strongest position to provide the right mix of expertise and investment. Partnerships depend on the business case of each individual technology.”
Versiti’s long track record of success
Versiti has nearly 80 years of experience researching better treatments and cures for patients in our communities and around the world, and Savatski’s work is critical to ensuring that Versiti discoveries are protected and appropriately leveraged. “Versiti has a great track record of making improvements to diagnosis and treatment of bleeding and clotting disorders, and now cancer,” she said. “Our first patent in the 1960s on blood filters made transfusion safer by removing white cells. Now, recent patents relating to CAR-T technology hold the promise to make new cellular therapies safer and able to be used not only for blood cancers, but cancers of all types, by harnessing the power of our own immune systems.”
“Patents have always sparked innovation and global knowledge sharing. Making smart, thoughtful decisions turns scientific knowledge into lifesaving discoveries,” she said.
About the expert: Laura Savatski is the technology transfer officer for Versiti.