Business Idea Based on Scripps Marine Drug Discovery Takes First Place at Inaugural Triton Greenovation Challenge


A business development pitch that aims to leverage the scientific discoveries of researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego into novel treatments for cancer took first place at a unique campus competition on Dec. 14, 2011, at Scripps.

The Triton Greenovation Network (TGN) "Challenge," a unique blend of science, entrepreneurialism, and business development, was designed as a vehicle to kick-start the commercialization of novel and environmentally focused t echnologies developed by students and researchers at UC San Diego. Sponsored by the Scripps Foundation, the Challenge was launched through a partnership between Scripps, the Rady School of Management, and von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism & Technology at the Jacobs School of Engineering.

"The partnership created by the TGN unites our respective areas of expertise towards the pursuit of a common goal-the commercialization of innovative ideas and technology coming out of Scripps," said Wendy Hunter Barker, director of institutional initiatives at Scripps. "This Challenge created a means of moving the winning projects one step closer to that goal through funding for mentorship and business planning."

The competition's winning idea came from Rady student Simon Bailey and his Aequoreus Pharma Innovation project, which is targeting a business niche between the pharmaceutical industry and academia. Aequoreus plans to tap the oceans as a new source of drug candidates based on the research and discovery of Scripps scientists William Fenical and Paul Jensen, who have helped shape the field of marine biomedicine. Aequoreus proposes to focus on early-stage compounds for the growing oncology market.

In the business of new drug development, the search for novel sources extracted from land has hit a dead end. In the decades following Alexander Fleming's 1929 discovery of penicillin from a soil fungus, researchers exhausted the planet's terrestrial environments for similar natural microbes that produce new antibiotics to treat infectious diseases.

Fenical and Jensen have dedicated their careers to cultivating the vast new resources for drug discovery awaiting in the world's seas. Across a range of ocean habitats that span from mild to extreme, and the broadest biodiversity on the planet, Fenical and Jensen seek to determine which organisms in the ocean make potentially therapeutic products and which don't.

"These are novel, unique organisms-plants, animals, and microbes-that have a different genetic composition (than terrestrial organisms)," said Fenical, director of the Scripps Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine, in a Scripps explorations now interview. "Unique genes equals the production of unique compounds."

The TGN Challenge's second place finisher was student Joshua Windmiller's project focusing on printed biofuel cells, follwed by, student Andrew Ajello's project focusing on a website for a new green method of light bulb disposal.   All three top finishers were awarded cash prizes as well as mentoring support from von Liebig technology and business advisors and Rady MBA Innovation fellows to help develop commercialization plans for their ideas.

"The goal (of the TGN Challenge) was to provide student participants with the skills to transform promising technologies into innovative products that will help create jobs, boost American competitiveness, and strengthen our economy," said Lada Rasochova, cofounder of the TGN.

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