Jeremy Nathans of Molecular Biology and Genetics
mulls over tech transfer and retinal research:
We see that you have a number of patents filed with the Office of Technology Transfer.
NATHANS: Yes, we’ve filed a few patents—Genentech has licensed four of them—but so far there are no products on the market.
Because you haven’t produced anything that’s marketable?
NATHANS: The sort of work we do is not that valuable from an intellectual-property point of view. Our job is to do the long-term foundational work that biotech and pharmaceutical companies can’t afford to do. Our role is to help the field become mature enough so that they can then go into it.
Is that happening now in retinal research?
NATHANS: Yes, I think it is. One way I measure the success of what we do is to see how many pharmaceutical companies develop research programs in this area. My sense is that the number is increasing. For a long time, many companies weren’t interested because the retina was viewed as too complicated. But that’s changing.
Your work with the Norrin-Frizzled-4 pathway seems promising in terms of drug development.
NATHANS: We think it may be. One thing we’re looking at is whether or not this pathway is used beyond the period of retinal development. If so, it could lead to a more precisely targeted drug therapy. The vascular inhibitors that have been tested so far need to be injected directly into the eye because they have systemic side effects, but that method of delivery is a problem because of the risk of infection. By contrast, the Norrin-Frizzled-4 system only seems to affect the vasculature in the ear and the eye. If that specificity holds up in the adult, perhaps a drug that acts on the Norrin-Frizzled-4 pathway could be taken as an oral medication. Although the drug would be everywhere, it would only be active in the eye and ear.
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