UTech Dorm Room Celebrates First Year Successes
It was an opportunity for a win-win-win solution - a great exercise of three segments of the community coming together for shared goals.
One year ago, representatives from The University of Texas, the City of Austin and Austin Technology Incubator sat down together, agreed to combine resources, and mapped a strategy. The UTech Dorm Room (UTDR) was born. Today it celebrates the successes of its first year.
The goal of the enterprise was to encourage start up bioscience companies to locate in Austin by providing affordable wet lab space, a commodity critical to bioscience success but one that is often in short supply and expensive to establish. In addition, strategists hoped the labs' location on the university campus would provide opportunity for university students to learn more about the workings of start up companies through internships with the researchers.
Laboratory space was made available as pharmacy research faculty moved into new facilities on campus. A $35,000 grant from the City of Austin provided a much-needed facelift for the lab. The UTDR Steering Committee identified Altermune Technologies LLC, a start up bioscience company based in California, as the Dorm Room's first tenant.
"We are delighted with the mutually-beneficial success we have had in meeting the objectives of the plan," said Alan Watts, assistant director of the Drug Dynamics Institute who oversees the UTDR. "From the start we set out to help grown small biotech companies in Austin by utilizing available lab space at UT Austin. It's been gratifying to watch Altermune Technologies thrive."
Bradley Hall directs company activities within the UTDR as lead scientist for product development with Altermune Technologies.
"Our first year in the Dorm Room was such a success, we requested and were granted a six month extension," Hall said.
Hall was formerly a Research Educator with UT's Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) and is aware of the potential that bright undergraduates can have in moving research projects forward.
"Our goal in coming (to the Dorm Room) was not only to enhance research, but also to interact with students," Hall said.
Elena Mora, an undergraduate student in the College of Natural Sciences, was introduced to Altermune Technologies through her involvement with the FRI. She and three other undergraduates became part of a pilot program called the Entrepreneurial Research Initiative developed by Biochemistry Professor Andrew Ellington and Sarah Simmons, the Assistant Dean for Honors, Research, and International Study. Mora has worked with Altermune Technologies in the UTech Dorm Room lab since January, receiving course credit in the spring and a summer fellowship through the university. Recently she was accepted to present her research at the 2012 meeting of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. The conference, "Science, Technology, and Diversity for a Healthy World," is scheduled for Oct. 11-14 in Seattle. In addition to winning a travel award Mora will present her work, "Development of Aptamers Against CD20 for Treating B-cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma." It will be her first opportunity to present at a national meeting.
Mora chose to work with CD20 because of her interests in cancer biology and potential therapies. Mora has worked independently on her project though she works side-by-side daily with Altermune Technologies employees and meets weekly for a journal club to discuss advances in the scientific literature.
"I have definitely benefitted from having a professional right there to ask questions whenever I needed," Mora said, adding that she will return to the lab this fall.
"This type of learning environment could not be duplicated without the participation of the university and the unique proximity of the UTDR," Hall continued. "In addition to learning about our company's work, the students also have an opportunity to observe, first hand, the workings of the entrepreneurial aspects of Altermune Technologies."
"Our goal training UT students for industry has occurred organically thanks to Altermune Technologies," Watts said. "It's been a great first year and we're looking forward to even more successes in our second year."