Asia strategy

on May 28, 2019

China, so vast, with such growth potential, has nonetheless challenged the research and development community to profit from alliances between North American R&D innovators and Chinese industry.

Paul Paolatto has a strategic approach to closing this gap. “WORLDiscoveries® Asia opened the first Canadian-based technology transfer office located in China last year,” he says. “This is not just about MOU’s (memos of understanding) – but deals that have returned $2.3 million for business development in London.”

After looking for a Chinese location that made the best fit with Western, WORLDiscoveries® chose Nanjing, China for their excellent research university and medium size – eight million people. The office has three local staff but Paolatto hopes to leverage the expertise of Western’s 100-plus faculty members with Asian origins and hundreds of research associates and students who are building Western’s reputation for research excellence in the Far East.

Paolatto says the Asian market can be a tremendous pipeline to accelerate inventions to market while increasing the return to institutions and researchers. “We have established two joint ventures and executed five material licensing agreements in Asia as a result of this excursion,” he says.

Examples of this include an exclusive IP Licensing and Research Agreement with a Toyko-based Life Sciences conglomerate for stem cell antibodies and a $2 million Chinese investment in the creation of Enable Technologies, a London-based spin-off company that develops 3D ultrasound carotid scanning tools and technology.

Within a year of operation, WORLDiscoveries® Asia is poised for even more growth. “It’s all about momentum,” says Paolatto. “We are succeeding much faster than our original plan expected and hope that this success can continue for some time.”

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Regional alliance

on May 28, 2019

Promising technology start-ups need many things – a great idea, access to capital, strong mentors and a compelling business plan – to name a few.

What they do not need is red tape and barriers to finding resources. That is why WORLDiscoveries® joined Regional Alliance – an initiative of London’s TechAlliance. “The Regional Alliance helps to facilitate the growth and maturation of high technology companies in the region,” says Paul Paolatto. “Now we have a home for our spin-offs to go over and above the services we offer.”

According to Marilyn Sinclair, President and CEO of TechAlliance, Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation (MEDI) provides funding for them as the regional innovation centre and as part of the Ontario Network of Excellence. In return, they want local leaders to strengthen industry-leading clusters by promoting innovation and by removing barriers to their success. “The Regional Alliance was formed by TechAlliance to bring together key stakeholders of the Regional Innovation Centre to promote a collaborative and cohesive strategy for growing the tech sector in the region,” she says.

Other Regional Alliance members are institutions such as The Research Park, The Stiller Centre, Western University, the Colleges Ontario Network for Industry and Innovation (CONII) that includes Lambton and Fanshawe Colleges, and the regional offices of the Ontario Centres of Excellence and the National Research Council of Canada and the Industrial Research Assistance Program.

Paolatto notes that entrepreneurs are always chasing money and the Regional Alliance provides focus on their missioncritical needs. “It is an indication that the community is rallying around the organic growth opportunities in high tech,” he says. “And that includes our government partners at the provincial and federal level.”

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HIV/AIDS Vaccine

on May 28, 2019

The statistics are brutal – 34 million people are living with HIV infection globally. There is no cure – though a cocktail of expensive anti-retroviral drugs can help infected individuals live longer.

Scientists believe a preventative vaccine is the long-term solution. Dr. Chil-Yong Kang, a Virologist at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, secured approval to start human clinical trials for his SAV001 vaccine from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “It is a long track, not a fast track,” says Kang. “We have learned from others and have had to modify our strategies over the years.”

Kang says the most expensive vaccines today, like the one for human papilloma virus might cost $350. By comparison, HIV/AIDS anti-retroviral drugs cost $14,000 per patient annually. Clearly, on price alone the vaccine is a potential major breakthrough.

The SAV001 vaccine has already proven to stimulate a strong immune response in non-human primates and be safe in preliminary toxicology tests. Sumagen Canada, a research partner of WORLDiscoveries®, is working with Kang to help complete human clinical trials. “WORLDiscoveries® has helped us with the patent search and applications including the HIV vaccine,” he says.

Kang, a retrovirus expert since 1971, initiated HIV/AIDS research in the late 1980s once he realized that even the most gifted researchers could not crack the disease. He came to Western in 1992 as Dean of Science and continued his research to develop a prophylactic HIV/AIDS vaccine by genetic alteration of the HIV. From that work, with much trial and error, came the revolutionary vaccine.

While other HIV vaccines have focused on limited components of HIV, Kang’s innovation is that SAV001 is a killed whole-virus vaccine like the ones used for polio, influenza, rabies, and hepatitis A. “We solved this problem by genetic modification of the HIV, he says. “We killed the genetically modified HIV (whole HIV-1) with chemicals and radiation and these processes had to be approved by the FDA. You cannot inject uncertain products into the human bodies.” The vaccine is non-pathogenic and can be produced in large enough quantities – a major breakthrough of their work.

FDA approval for clinical trials is imperative. “They are the gold standard,” says Kang. “They have the toughest regulations acceptable to any other country – you do it once and for all.”

Since the HIV genome was sequenced in 1983, the disease has killed over 28 million people. “We hope to stop this devastating epidemic by our vaccine and save the lives of millions,” says Kang.

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Self-cleaning coatings

on May 28, 2019

In television ads, bathroom and kitchen cleaning products are often represented as microscopic foam brushes, magically cleaning countertops and tiles with the greatest of ease.

A Western researcher is working on a real-life version of that phenomenon and is attracting considerable interest from companies ranging from food processors to makers of solar panels and window coatings.

Chemical and Biochemical Engineering Professor Paul Charpentier is examining how plastic coatings can be used to create self-cleaning, anti-microbial polymer films on a variety of surfaces.

“The idea is to be able to make certain polymers kill any micro-organisms that attach to their surfaces, such as E-Coli or Listeria, without affecting other polymer properties,” Charpentier says. “In effect, we would create polymers that ‘clean themselves’ and potentially even clean the air around them if integrated into window coverings or wall paints.”

Focusing on polymers such as polyesters (yarns used in clothes, furniture and window coverings) and polyurethanes (used in outdoor and automotive paints and in coatings on ceramic tiles and hardwood floors), Charpentier has found a way to stop nanoparticles from being released during use. He does that by linking nanostructured titanium dioxide of a controlled crystal structure to the polymer chains during formation.

There are challenges, including the need to discourage the nanocrystals from bunching together and making sure they break down dirt or bugs instead of the polymer itself, but Charpentier is well on his way to figuring it out. He is working on a variety of commercialization strategies with WORLDiscoveries.

Specifically, Charpentier and WORLDiscoveries are working with a company that sprays polyurethane coatings and another that manufactures window coatings to incorporate the technology with its weaving and lamination process. The goal is to license the process technology to the manufacturer and see the product move from phenomenon to reality.

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Making buildings safer

on May 28, 2019

Every few months, it seems, there is news of another deadly earthquake somewhere in the world, destroying buildings and taking lives.

A Western researcher has created a system to stabilize new and existing buildings, providing a level of protection beyond expected seismic standards to protect against even the most serious earthquakes.

Hesham El Naggar, Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Engineering, has created a Seismic Restraint Helical Pile System. Patents are pending on the technology, but already elements of it have been used in a variety of buildings, including the renovation of St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital in St. Thomas, Ont., and by Hubbell Power Systems Inc.

The Helical Pile System is, in effect, a series of very large steel screws that are twisted deep into the ground. To increase strength, the piles are surrounded by fibre reinforced grout, often encased in fibre reinforced polymer pipe to provide greater lateral resistance.

The Helical Pile System provides three times as much support as a traditional static foundation to offset the unpredictable forces generated by an earthquake.

“That is the key to the whole design,” says El Naggar. “You have a building with a foundation that can support its static weight, but when there are seismic forces, the building is pulled in directions the foundation was not designed to support.”

The Helical Pile System provides three times as much support as a traditional static foundation to offset the unpredictable forces generated by an earthquake.

The system can be incorporated into the design of a new building. More exciting, perhaps, is how easily it can be used to retrofit an existing building, giving older buildings much more protection against seismic activity that researchers have recently discovered is much greater in many areas than previously believed.

“We’ve always known seismic conditions vary by region,” El Naggar says. “But recently we’ve learned that Eastern Canada, for example, is much more seismically active than we understood before. So there are many buildings that aren’t built to withstand the potential seismic force that could occur.”

To retrofit a building, the helical piles are screwed into the ground next to, and surrounding, the building. Then a special bracket is attached that shifts much of the weight from the foundation to the stronger piles.

A variety of organizations, principally in the MUSH sector – municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals – could adopt the new system to make public buildings safer.

WORLDiscoveries recently licensed the technology to one of the largest drilling companies in North America, a deal which will soon see this valued solution in the market in North America and around the globe.

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Managing complications of Diabetes

on May 28, 2019

Along with the explosion in cases of diabetes in many parts of the world comes a lesser known side effect: diabetic retinopathy (DR). Blockages in the tiny blood vessels surrounding the retina damage the light-sensing tissue on the interior back wall of the eye.

Estimates suggests about 2% of people with diabetes for more than 10 years will become blind, while about 10% will develop a severe visual handicap.

Research conducted by Dr. Subrata Chakrabarti, Chair of the Department of Pathology at Western, offers hope for a viable treatment. Chakrabarti and his colleagues focused on the use of microRNA – a short, single-stranded RNA molecule, 21-23 nucleotides long, that has been discovered to play an important role in gene regulation.

This miRNA controls the growth of vascular endothelial in the retina, which causes the damage. The treatment holds more promise than the traditional DR treatment, which involves targeting individual proteins. The miRNA approach provides a unique opportunity to prevent multiple gene expressions.

This new approach could replace traditional DR drug therapy with injectables that control vascular endothelial growth, new drug delivery systems and new intra-operative imaging technology.

WORLDiscoveries® has been managing the commercialization of this technology and a recent licensing agreement with the Kunshan RNAi Institute in China should bring that treatment closer to reality in a relatively short period of time. “There is a lot of potential, and we are excited to be working with Kunshan,” says Dr. Souzan Armstrong. “Licensing the technology is the next step toward the ultimate goal of developing treatments for people suffering from diabetic retinopathy.”

In addition to his work at Western, Dr. Chakrabarti is Chief of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care. His research focuses on chronic complications of diabetes, in particular on eyes, the kidney and the heart.

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Enhancing Surgery

on May 28, 2019

What began as a request for a letter of support has blossomed into a partnership that promises to change the way some forms of heart surgery are performed.

A year ago Dr. Terry Peters was submitting grant requests and asked NeoChord Inc. for a letter of endorsement highlighting the clinical applications of the research he and his colleagues conduct at the Robarts Research Institute.

“I didn’t just get a letter from them,” Peters recalls. “Within two days, the CEO and chief technical officer of the company came to see us. They wanted to work together.”

Among other things, Peters and his research group work on Virtual Augmentation and Simulation for Surgery and Therapy (VASST). Simply put, they create sophisticated 3D imaging systems that allow surgeons to conduct minimally-invasive surgery on the beating heart, brain, and other vital organs.

In effect, it is a delivery system that allows for incredibly precise surgical procedures conducted using miniature instruments going through small incisions. Patients experience far less trauma compared to traditional surgical procedures.

NeoChord specializes in mitral valve repair. If left untreated, a damaged valve can lead to serious heart conditions including arrhythmias and congestive heart failure. Traditionally, valve repairs required an incision of up to 10 inches in the chest. The NeoChord DS1000 is a sophisticated device that repairs mitral valves by restoring the natural leaflet motion of the heart’s left ventricle.

Rather than requiring open heart surgery, the NeoChord procedure can be performed through a relatively small incision between the ribs, thus reducing the chances of surgical complications.

Bringing together the NeoChord device and the sophisticated, minimally-invasive delivery system developed by Peters and his colleagues was a perfect match.

Working with WORLDiscoveries®, the two organizations have signed sponsored research and licensing agreements.

The NeoChord agreement is only a first step for Peters and his colleagues. Their guidance system is also of interest to companies and organizations that specialize in brain surgery as well as the liver, kidney and prostate.

“Seeing this kind of clinical use of the technology is really what motivates us,” Peters says. “It’s wonderful to see.”

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Improving Education

on May 28, 2019

X-ray CT (Computed Tomography) scanners provide razor sharp three-dimensional (3D) images of the human body for crucial diagnoses. But these scanners, that fill a room and use x-ray exposures, are not user-friendly to train students.

Now, Western Medical Biophysics Professors and Lawson Scientists, Jerry Battista and Kevin Jordan have co-developed DeskCAT, a miniature version of a clinical CT scanner, to use in a classroom. John Miller and Robert Yarnell, and their Londonbased Modus Medical Devices company, provided innovative design work. Modus manufactures and distributes DeskCATs to universities in North America and overseas.

DeskCAT requires no radiation because it replaces x-rays with visible light rays – so safe for students to run the equipment in a lab or classroom. “This is a low cost device purely for education,” says Professor Jerry Battista who is cross-appointed to Radiation Oncology at Western and the London Regional Cancer Care Program. “It’s all done with visible light – we use LED lights like Christmas lights. Students can experience it and see it.”

Battista and Jordan invented the basis for the DeskCAT scanner while doing cancer radiotherapy research to model complex 3D radiation dose patterns in gels – an essential aspect of cancer treatment verification. “The path of radiation appears visibly in the gel like it would in a 3D radiographic film,” says Battista. “The aim of the research is to quantify the radiation dose pattern in 3D well before cancer patients are treated.”

DeskCAT costs approximately $10,000 and comes with a set of teaching modules.

They say as scientists they were happy to let intellectual property development work go to WORLDiscoveries who untangled complex licensing issues from their cross-appointments and government grants. “They helped us get a federal grant that brought in students to help us beta test the labs,” says Professor Kevin Jordan.

Their dream is to have DeskCATs in all medical schools, college training programs for CT technologists, science centres, university medical physics departments – and even in high schools.

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Cambridge Brain Sciences

on May 28, 2019

Dr. Adrian Owen brought more than a brain trust of scientists from Cambridge University in the U.K. when he took the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Neuroscience and Imaging at Western in 2011.

He also brought a business to develop – Cambridge Brain Sciences (CBS) – an internet-based platform to test cognitive thinking. “IQ means nothing scientifically,” says Dr. Adrian Owen. “But because of neuroimaging (using PET and functional MRI) we can test the brain function for concentration, planning, memory and reasoning.”

Owen says he and his fellow scientists at The Brain & Mind Institute at Western, an interdisciplinary cognitive neuroscience initiative that includes advanced imaging technologies, analyze brain functions in neurological disorders to measure how they affect cognitive function. “For example, we know in Alzheimer’s disease memory is impaired but planning is not impacted,” he says. “And in Parkinson’s, memory is resistant, but not planning.”

He says CBS tests build on this work and are solidly backed by brain scans of over 44,000 people. Owen’s team wanted to mine the data from these brain scans and on-line tests – hence the creation of CBS. “We wanted a website to measure intelligence,” says Owen. “Western was aware of the potential of CBS – to make it a business.”

Dr. Adam Hampshire, Co-architect of CBS, came with Owen to London. He is the principal system designer and programmed all the paradigms to maximize the vast database of their research. He also created an application for clinical and pharmaceutical trials. “For one pharma company we tested a particular compound on cognitive effect and used standardized tests to benchmark efficacy,” says Hampshire.

The platform is being further developed at Western and WORLDiscoveries has structured a licensing deal for the original Intellectual Property (IP). “We don’t want to be business people,” says Owen. “With support from WORLDiscoveries we can work on our science. There are social media verticals as well as industry-based verticals beyond our research.”

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Following the Sun

on May 28, 2019

Kamran Siddiqui, Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering along with his graduate student, Hassan Hassan, has developed two new technologies that boost the efficiency of traditional solar panels and other solar energy applications.

“Typically, panels face south, which makes sense if they are stationary,” Siddiqui says. “But it means they are only aimed directly at the sun for a very short duration (solar noon) and for the rest of the day, the panel orientation with respect to the sun continuously changes, resulting in the lower output. If you move the panels as the sun moves across the sky, they are much more efficient.”

In fact, studies show they are about 40% more efficient when aimed directly at the sun all day long.

Unlike existing systems that rely on expensive microprocessors to calculate the sun’s path, Siddiqui’s solution tracks the sun with sensors and positions the panels accordingly.

If, however, the moving panels required large amounts of energy to remain in proper alignment the benefits would be reduced. That’s where Siddiqui and his student’s second innovation comes in.

A load compensator is a mechanical device that carries almost three-quarters of the weight of the solar panels making it easy for a small, energy-efficient motor to move the panels into perfect position.

The smaller motor is both energy efficient and less costly, making the entire system very cost-effective. Furthermore, the innovative “plug-n-play” design of the tracking system, reduces the installation cost by up to 75%.

Siddiqui and Hassan are now working with WORLDiscoveries® to patent and market their innovation through a spinoff company named “Grenetek Inc.”.

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