A Crash Course in Commercialization

By Marianne Scoczek

UC Davis is renowned for pioneering research in fields from biomedical engineering to medicine to the latest green technologies.

But what if these innovations don’t exit the lab to truly make a difference?

Enter the Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Business Development Certificate program. The year-long immersion gives UC Davis graduate, doctoral and postdoctoral researchers a crash course in commercialization, including classes with MBA students, networking events, visits to start-ups and team exercises, all designed to fast-track promising, technology-driven innovation.

“Our fellows learn to recognize the potential social and commercial impact of their research,” explains Professor Andrew Hargadon, director of the institute. “And in the long run, we help them to help others to do the same.”

Trouncing TB

Every second, someone is infected with tuberculosis, an often deadly disease caused by myco-bacteria that are spread via coughs and sneezes. Today’s potent, antibiotic-resistant forms of TB have created public health crises in many of the world’s large cities. In all, an estimated 30 percent of people across the globe are infected.

Business Development Fellow Morteza Roodgar may have a solution.

Born in Tehran, Roodgar attended the School of Veterinary Medicine in Shiraz, Iran, on a scholarship, earning a doctor of veterinary medicine and exploring a growing interest in both animal and human epidemiology.

In August 2009 he entered the master of preventive veterinary medicine program at UC Davis. Today, as a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate Group of Comparative Pathology, he studies the role genes may play in an individual’s susceptibility to TB. His work is funded in part by a prestigious National Institutes of Health award.

“Focusing on the molecular process of infectious diseases in animal models has helped me develop a comprehensive understanding of how both humans and nonhuman primates’ immune systems respond to TB and other diseases,” Roodgar says.

His goal: develop a better, more sensitive diagnostic test for TB that can be used by physicians and veterinarians alike. That requires a successful technology transfer plan.

The Business Development Fellows program provides a new perspective on his work. “Knowing the barriers to a truly innovative process will help me overcome them, and help me avoid less fruitful science and focus on the discovery of even those applications that might not be obvious.”

Combatting Cancer

Renee Ruhaak is driven to understand how the human body works. And her research into how molecules function could result in lifesaving and life-enhancing new medical practices.

She earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in analytical chemistry and her Ph.D. in medical sciences from her hometown Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Her doctoral work with the Leiden Longevity Study explored why some people maintain health as they age while others suffer from diseases and various ailments—and gave Ruhaak her first experience in applied science. She patented one of her research methods, a nontoxic way of labeling oligosaccharides for analysis. The first product based on this patent was released by British bioscience company Ludger Ltd. last fall. 

Ruhaak’s research interests led her to UC Davis, where she has been a postdoctoral fellow in the Chemistry Department since November 2010. Today she applies state-of-the art analytical instrumentation to develop biomarkers for the early detection of cancer, and to predict the effectiveness of cancer treatments. Another line of research explores the potential health benefits of human milk during the early stages of life.

“Many of the practices for business development are helpful skills I can use to develop my research and eventually establish my own lab,” she says. “Both my earlier experience in commercializing an academic finding and the Business Development Fellows program will help me, as a scientist, to recognize future solutions that have commercial potential, and which steps I need to take to most effectively bring these discoveries out of academic labs and into the real world.”