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Coulter Foundation Helps Create 20 Million Endowment in Support of Biomedical Innovations

April 26, 2011

Drexel University was awarded $10 million by the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation to endow the Coulter Translational Research Partnership program. The University matched the Coulter Foundation’s grant creating a $20 million endowment to bring life saving solutions to clinical practice by moving promising biomedical discoveries to commercialization.

“This program started out as a grand experiment to link the relatively new discipline of biomedical engineering to translational research,” said Sue Van, President of the foundation. “With the capabilities and financial sustainability of this endowment, Drexel is now a leader at the forefront of translational research and can systematically and successfully move innovation out of the university to benefit humanity.”

Elias Caro, Vice President of Technology Development at the foundation, said, “As a member of the Coulter program, Drexel University adopted the Coulter Process, an industry-like development process, that includes a thorough commercialization analysis which assesses intellectual property, FDA requirements, reimbursement, critical milestones and clinical adoption. This attracted follow-on funding from venture capital and biomedical companies.  They reached a level of excellence and sustainability consistent with the foundation’s goal of creating powerhouses in translational research.”  

The new endowment will help Drexel enable the Philadelphia region to become a national hotbed of medical device development and build a global network of collaboration between academia and business.

“Qualifying to receive the Coulter Foundation’s endowment is a seminal achievement for Drexel,” said Drexel President John A. Fry. “This distinguishes Drexel as a top leader among national research universities in collaborative translational research and charges us with the responsibility to mentor our peers regionally, nationally and internationally.”

Innovations that received support through the Coulter Foundation’s translational research partnership with Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems (BIOMED) and College of Medicine that began in 2006, have already been licensed. These include a wound monitor that could help diabetes-associated wounds heal faster and a non-invasive, radiation-free, portable breast cancer screening device.

“The Coulter Partnership is all about fostering an academic culture that can successfully build collaborations that address unmet needs in healthcare,” said Banu Onaral, Director of Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems. “It has transformed how we work, creating a fusion of two different worlds—academia and business—that help us move innovations into the clinic here and around the world.”

The timing of the original Coulter grant couldn’t have been better for Drexel’s BIOMED, a university-level school that transcends disciplinary boundaries.  The School’s commitment to outcome-oriented translational research to develop biomedical products and technologies, in alliance with clinical and industrial partner, aligned ideally with the mission of the Coulter Foundation.

Through what came to be known as the Coulter Process, the Coulter Foundation transformed Drexel’s culture into new ways of working. Drexel scientists, clinicians and students teamed up with entrepreneurs, investors and patent attorneys, who have the business skills needed to transform great ideas into practical products. Alumni played a critical role in the creation, development and management of the program. Robert Loring, who commercialized his doctoral research, served as the first Coulter Project Director followed by Davood Tashayyod, who also converted university research into a business. 

Each proposal was analyzed by a newly established Oversight Committee, which included clinical opinion leaders and representatives from medical device and pharmaceutical industries, entrepreneurs, local economic development agencies and the Coulter Foundation. The committee assessed the project’s scientific and medical value, and its potential to produce technology that could be patented, licensed and developed into a viable marketable product.

Over the first five years of the Coulter-Drexel partnership, 21 projects received funding. Commercialization funds from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners/SEP, Innovation Grants from Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development and the University City Science Center’s QED Proof-of-Concept Program, supplemented and extended the Coulter grant.

These projects have produced more than 40 full patent applications, three issued patents and one copyright registration. About one-third of the projects have produced licenses according to Robert McGrath, Associate Vice provost and Executive Director of Drexel’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology Commercialization. The Coulter imprint provided leverage to raise an additional $18 million in commercial and government follow-on funding leading to seven licenses with three technologies licensed to international commercial partners.

The wound monitor and breast cancer screening device aren’t the only Coulter projects making headway. Others that have evolved into licensed technologies include a blood-vessel-grafting technique that can help replace clogged coronary arteries, a wristwatch that can monitor the wearer’s blood pressure, an electronic device for sterilizing living tissue and a digital mannequin to train medical students and physicians.

Advanced BioSensors, Inc., a subsidiary of NetScientific America, Inc., was founded in August 2009 to further develop the cuff-less blood pressure technology originally developed by Dr. Ryszard Lec’s laboratory at Drexel BIOMED. The company and its founders estimate that it will take no less than $5 million to bring the Blood Pressure Wristwatch to market, and NetScientific is fully committed to providing this amount from its own funds or raising it from outside investors. The wristwatch will be a consumer oriented medical device to be sold over-the-counter and e-commerce style. It will appeal to the individuals with hypertension, totaling 200 million worldwide.

New regional partnerships and global alliances were inspired by the Coulter model. The Health Innovations Partnership of Southeastern Pennsylvania (HP-SEP) was created to serve as a consortium of local universities that collaborate on everything from intellectual property, translational research, product development and commercialization know-how and resources to sharing facilities.

Drexel is creating an initiative to reach out to international partners, according to Onaral. A translational research partnership program is already in progress with the Institute for Drug Research of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Similar international innovation partnerships are under development with the Med-X Research Institute in Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, Hospital for Paraplegics in Toledo, Spain and select universities in Turkey.

“The overall goal is to use the Coulter model to create an environment for biomedical technologies where intellectual and economic forces can give birth to lifesaving and life-changing technologies that strengthen the regional economy and make the world a better place,” said Onaral.
About Wallace H. Coulter and the Coulter Principle:

Wallace H. Coulter (1913-1998), benefactor of the foundation, was a serial innovator and entrepreneur. He founded Coulter Corporation and continued to lead this global diagnostics company during its entire 40-year history. He revolutionized the practice of hematology and laboratory medicine and pioneered the fields of flow cytometry and monoclonal antibodies.

The Coulter Principle, or electronic sensing zone, was just one of his 82 patents. Its first application, the Coulter Counter, provided the first high-throughput, standardized method to count and size cells and particles as they flow through an aperture.  It led to major breakthroughs in science, medicine and industry.  In fact, the Coulter Principle touches everyone’s daily life from having a blood test, to painting your home, from drinking beer to eating chocolate, swallowing a pill or applying cosmetics. It is critical to toners and ceramics as well as space exploration where NASA uses it to test the purity of rocket fuel.  The impact of the Coulter Principle to the medical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, food, beverage and consumer industries is immeasurable.

Wallace H. Coulter Foundation Contact: Wayne A. Barlin, General Counsel
305-559-2991, ext. 106,