Two UT-Austin researchers have been recognized for their work in improving cellular response to cancer and making drugs more soluble for absorption within the body.
Everett Stone of the Department of Molecular Biosciences and Robert Williams of the Division of Pharmaceutics in Texas Pharmacy were the recipients of the 2017 Emerging Inventor of the Year award and the 2017 Inventor of the Year Award, respectively, by UT-Austin’s Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC).
According to Dan Sharp, Associate Vice President for Research and Director at the OTC, said the Inventor of the Year award recognizes leaders that have created technologies, startups and patents that have made a large impact on not only the UT community but the nation and the world as well. The Emerging Inventor of the Year Award recognizes individuals that have accrued a list of accomplishments and patents but may be on the rise or earlier on in their career.
“The Inventor Awards Ceremony is a tribute to UT-Austin’s distinguished inventors, who, through their research and creative ideas, epitomize our institution’s slogan: ‘What starts here changes the world,’” he said. “The annual event celebrates UT researchers, and in particular, honors two inventors whose high-level aspirations and research discoveries epitomize the University’s culture of innovation and commercialization opportunities.”
Stone works on enzyme therapeutics used in cancer treatment. His research utilizes enzymes to deprive cancerous cells of nutrients that are needed for them to survive, essentially starving them.
“In the last several years, we have been working on enabling human enzymes to have the properties we want to exploit deficits in cancer metabolism,” he said. “Certain cancers are addicted to amino acids and particular enzymes, starving the cells of these molecules. Normal cells do not have the same metabolic deficit, so we are able to selectively impact the cancer cells.”
Stone added that his research attempts to treat cancer through fixing inborn errors in metabolism that may increase cancer risks.
“Sometimes, a person or patient may be missing an essential enzyme,” he said. “As a result, there may be a buildup of toxic metabolic products, so we sought to design a protein to replace this missing enzyme.”
Robert Williams’ research focuses on improving drug properties to maximize absorption within the body.
“Generally, about 90 percent of drugs in development are not water soluble,” he said. “That’s a big problem. So, we developed, with a pharmaceutical technique, a high-energy mixing process to solve this issue.”
Williams said the process for obtaining a patent is enjoyable and involves all imaginable aspects starting from conceptualizing in the laboratory to filling out a patent application.
“When we come up with an idea that solves a problem, such as a mixture or process to make drug more soluble, we note what’s out there in literature,” he said. “Assuming its new, UT-Austin and the (OTC) file an invention disclosure, basically stating that we’ve made an invention.”
The next step, he said, involves the students. They write a paper on their findings, eventually publishing it as part of their dissertation. Next, patent attorneys get involved, converting the paper into a patent application.
Williams said the findings in his laboratory have led to the development of a company, called DisperSol Technologies, centered around the patents and findings in his laboratory’s research. Williams added that commercialization is an important part of the research process.
“I’m really interested in the applied research in the lab,” he said. “My interest is making sure we get the patents so we can directly benefit society. Commercialization, corporation and licensing our patents to other companies is a significant aspect. Without it, there’s no reason to spend money to get a patent.”
Stone said the OTC’s recognition extends to the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students’ contributions to these developments.
“UT-Austin seeks to solve really relevant problems,” he said. “Working out the bugs is just a part of it. Sometimes it’s me who is tinkering with it, but at others it’s the amazing talent at UT-Austin.”