U-M, Coulter Translational Partnership build $20 million endowment for Biomedical Engineering, School of Medicine research

May 5, 2011
  • umichnews@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—The Wallace H. Coulter Foundation along with the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering and the School of Medicine has enabled the creation of a $20 million endowment to enhance and support research directed at technologies promising progression towards commercial development and clinical practice.

“We are grateful to the Coulter Foundation for once again advancing biomedical engineering at Michigan. The university’s commitment to strengthening the economy includes seeing that our research moves from the laboratory to the marketplace, and this new endowment will help make that possible,” said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman.

“This endowment from the Coulter Foundation will help to boost the burgeoning biotech industry in southeast Michigan, mainly because funding like this picks up where funding from the National Institute of Health (NIH) tends to leave off,” said Douglas C. Noll, chair of Biomedical Engineering (BME). “Many companies need products that are closer to commercialization before they become interesting enough to attract outside investors, and the Coulter Program plays a unique role in advancing projects to that stage.” Sue Van, president of the foundation, said: “This program started out as a grand experiment to link the relatively new discipline of biomedical engineering to translational research. We are extremely proud of the advancements achieved by the University of Michigan in moving projects through the Coulter Process so that these advances will benefit patients.”

Elias Caro, vice president of technology development at the foundation stated: “As a member of the Coulter program, U-M adopted the Coulter Process, an industry-like development process that includes a thorough analysis which assesses intellectual property, FDA requirements, reimbursement, critical milestones and clinical adoption. This attracted follow on funding from venture capital and biomedical companies and create high quality jobs.”

“The University of Michigan College of Engineering encourages bright minds to apply their talents to solving big problems,” said David Munson, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering. “This focus matches up perfectly with the Coulter Foundation’s drive to close the divide between research and the effective commercialization of products that will be suitable for clinical use.”

The U-M Coulter Translational Research Partnership program has used a unique funding approach and support structure to launch 22 pilot projects and catalyze four BME start-ups since the first round of projects funded in 2006. The program pairs engineers and clinicians with the aim of moving promising technologies from the laboratory to the marketplace. Because of its success, the Coulter framework is serving as a model for other translational programs on campus.

“The Coulter Foundation endowment helps the U-M Health System create the future of medicine by fostering the development of cutting-edge discoveries that improve patient health,” said Dr. James O. Woolliscroft, dean of the U-M Medical School and the Lyle C. Roll Professor of Medicine. “High-risk and potentially high-return medical research too often is not pursued were it not for this kind of philanthropic support.”

The foundation has funded BME with a total of $5 million over five years (April 2006-March 2011). The funded projects have leveraged this support to advance projects towards translation to patient care, resulting in $22.2 million in investments in four start-up companies and over $7 million in NIH and other grant funding. Additional innovations were successfully licensed to industry. Driven by the positive results of the U-M-Coulter model, the university seeks to raise additional funds from other foundations, gifts, corporate sponsors and individual partners to ensure the growth and expansion of this program for continued success in the future.

“By creating four startups in five years, the Coulter Foundation’s program has provided U-M and southeast Michigan with its most productive commercialization model to date,” said Jim O’Connell, U-M’s Coulter Program director. “The most recent being Life Magnetics. The Coulter program’s ability to provide extremely targeted, and well-timed funding at only the most promising university technologies has accelerated companies like Life Magnetics out into the marketplace, created jobs, and will ultimately save lives.”

HistoSonics, a U-M Coulter success story, launched an Ann Arbor-based start-up to develop a technology known as histotripsy. Histotripsy is a non-invasive surgical procedure that uses high intensity ultrasound pulses to break down soft tissue. Its lead application is the treatment of benign prostate hyperplasia, but it can also be applied to blood clots, kidney stones, uterine fibroids, congenital heart disease, and tumors of the breast and brain, without pain or other side effects. The company has received $11 million in venture financing to develop its clinical prototype and secure FDA approval.

Wallace H. Coulter (1913-1998), benefactor of the foundation, was a serial innovator and entrepreneur. He founded Coulter Corporation and continued to lead this global diagnostics company during its entire 40-year history. He revolutionized the practice of hematology and laboratory medicine and pioneered the fields of flow cytometry and monoclonal antibodies.

The Coulter Principle, or electronic sensing zone, was the first of his 82 patents. Its first application, the Coulter Counter, provided the first high-throughput, standardized method to count and size cells and particles as they flow through an aperture. It led to major breakthroughs in science, medicine and industry. In fact, the Coulter Principle touches everyone’s daily life from having a blood test, to painting your home, from drinking beer to eating chocolate, swallowing a pill or applying cosmetics. It is critical to toners and ceramics as well as space exploration where NASA uses it to test the purity of rocket fuel. The impact of the Coulter Principle enhances and supports research directed at promising technologies within the university laboratory, propelling them towards commercial development and clinical practice.

Michigan Engineering: The University of Michigan College of Engineering is ranked among the top engineering schools in the country. At $180 million annually, its engineering research budget is one of largest of any public university. Michigan Engineering is home to 11 academic departments, numerous research centers and expansive entrepreneurial programs. The College plays a leading role in the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute and hosts the world-class Lurie Nanofabrication Facility. Michigan Engineering’s premier scholarship, international scale and multidisciplinary scope combine to create The Michigan Difference. Find out more at http://www.engin.umich.edu/.