MU ready to market biotech potential
By Jim Ross - The Herald-Dispatch
Scientific research at Marshall University drew the attention of people with money to invest in biotechnology businesses during the BIO2004 trade show this week in San Francisco.
Marshall students also were of interest to companies looking for people skilled in the basic sciences, in technology or both, the local representatives at BIO2004 said.
"We may think of ourselves as a small fish in a large pond, but having had this experience, I think we can be players just like anyone else," said Pamela Staton, an associate professor of forensic science at Marshall ’s Forensic Science Center.
The Forensic Science Center has a patent pending on a process for tracking the source of E. coli bacteria in rivers and smaller streams. The process developed at Marshall is helping people track the sources of the bacteria found in streams to determine whether they came from people, farm animals or wildlife.
The patent has a good chance of becoming a revenue producer for Marshall, Staton said.
"I had a venture capital representative speak with me. He has a company that he would like to partner with us," Staton said.
A representative of the Oklahoma economic development office likewise showed interest in the E. coli research, Staton said.
"Bacterial source tracking and fecal source pollution is not a West Virginia problem. It’s a national problem, and not very many states have jumped on the bandwagon. I’m expecting that project to go national. We have more research to do, and we have more partnership to do with states. It’s a matter of seizing the opportunity and moving forward," Staton said.
Laura Jenski, a professor of biological sciences and head of the department, said she talked with several people about her research into fatty acids found in fish and how they are useful in fighting certain cancers, arthritis and atherosclerosis. But she was pleasantly surprised by the number of people she talked with who wanted to know more about Marshall ’s academic offerings.
"I’ve had a lot of people come by and want to talk about the academic programs at Marshall . They want to know what kind of undergraduate and graduate programs we have that would prepare people for biotechnology," she said.
Staton and Jenski attended BIO2004 to talk science, while Jerry McDonald, president of the Huntington Area Development Council, and Cal Kent, vice president for technology commercialization at Marshall and executive director of the university’s Institute for Development of Entrepreneurial Advances, were there to talk business with potential investors and partners.
The four people’s trips to San Francisco and BIO2004 were paid by the Biotech Alliance, a partnership of Marshall and HADCO to promote local efforts in biotechnology.
McDonald said he talked with about 70 people who are good prospects for doing business in the Huntington area.
"Most of them were looking at various forms of partnership with the university," he said. McDonald also said people from Louisville and from the University of Miami asked about how the public-private partnership in Huntington works.
Kent said Marshall may not be a large player or a famous player in biotech, but people left the show knowing about Marshall.
"We’re looking for our niche. What we’ve discovered is, there are plenty of niches. We’ve almost been overwhelmed by the number of people that want to talk with us. We’ve had people from India (and) people from Japan ," he said.
"Some of the things that we are doing at Marshall are very exciting to other people. It’s nice to come here and be treated like we are a major player. We’re taken very seriously. People have sought us out for what we have here and what we have to offer."
McDonald said Marshall and the Biotech Alliance talked about three niches Marshall plans to excel in: medicine, environmental science and forensics.
The conference ended Wednesday.
Jenski said the job now for the Biotech Alliance is to keep in contact with the people the four local representatives met.