Outstanding UF Scripps Inventors Recognized by UF Innovate

More than 200 innovators and entrepreneurs gathered for UF Innovate | Tech Licensing’s fifth annual Standing InnOvation event in Gainesville on Wednesday, Oct. 26, to honor and celebrate innovators at the University of Florida, including those from UF Scripps Biomedical Research.

Since its inception in 2018, Standing InnOvation gives a much-deserved “standing ovation” to the UF innovators who disclosed, licensed or optioned technologies in the fiscal year that ended June 30. This year, innovators disclosed 310 technologies, licensed 124 and started 10 companies.

Each of UF’s six licensing teams designated one “Invention of the Year” that stood out to them as having great potential. The inventors received trophies fitted with Edison lightbulbs, a tribute to innovation which has the potential to brighten the world. Two of the six recognized inventions were developed at the UF Scripps campus in Jupiter.

Christoph Rader, Ph.D.

Invention of the Year: Antibodies for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

In 2018, Christoph Rader, Ph.D., and his team discovered that a cell-surface protein called Siglec-6 was broadly expressed in chronic lymphocytic leukemia, suggesting it could represent a possible target for antibody-based therapies. Since then, Rader, a professor in the immunology and microbiology department at UF Scripps, worked with graduate student Matthew Cyr, Ph.D., to identify and develop monoclonal antibodies able to target Siglec-6. They subsequently engineered the antibody into a more potent bispecific antibody that recruits T-cells to the malignant cells.

CLL strikes about 20,000 people in the United States annually and causes an estimated 4,400 deaths per year. CLL involves the immune system’s mature B cells, which excrete antibodies. While current drug therapies are effective against CLL, they target all B cells. This left CLL patients vulnerable in the pandemic, Rader said. A safer precision therapy is needed.

“Especially during COVID, it has been a problem that the current therapies eliminate all B cells. The patients didn’t respond to the vaccines and couldn’t fight the virus effectively, so there were quite a lot of deaths,” Rader said. “We think bispecific antibodies are a potent modality for treating CLL. We hope this discovery will incentivize clinical trials.”

Kirill Martemyanov, Ph.D.

Invention of the Year: A Strategy to Enhance the Safety of Opioid Pain Relievers

People who suffer severe pain from stroke, trauma or cancer know that over time, the most effective prescription pain relievers lose power. To provide their patients with the same pain-relieving effect, physicians prescribe higher doses of opioids like morphine and fentanyl. While this manages the pain, it also increases the risk of dependance or even overdose. The term for this is tolerance, and it’s a worrisome issue for doctors.

Professor Kirill Martemyanov, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the neuroscience department at UF Scripps, worked with fellow neuroscientist Brock Grill, Ph.D., now at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington, to identify how and why neurons develop opioid tolerance.

They discovered a gene called PTCHD1 regulates cholesterol content in the cell membrane, affecting presentation of opioid receptors on the cell surface. Exploiting this mechanism could one day lead to improved pain treatments, ones that help patients avoid tolerance and reduce risk of dependence on opioids, Martemyanov said. 

Read about UF Innovate’s other inventions of the year, and its innovator of the year, Dr. Barry Byrne, here.