Inside the OTT at Emory University with Associate Vice President of Research and Executive Director Todd Sherer, PhD

Emory University

Please describe your background/career path that led you to your current role.

Todd Sherer, PhDI received my Doctorate in Toxicology and Molecular Biology from Washington State University and have spent the majority of my career in tech transfer. Before coming to Emory’s Office of Technology Transfer, where I have been for 19 years, I held positions at Oregon Health & Science University, the University of Oregon, and Washington State University. I have also served as AUTM President in the past.

Tell us about Emory and what sets your institution apart.

Emory is a powerhouse of faculty, student, and collaborative research. For decades, Emory has been at the forefront of discovering treatments for HIV, cancer, and infectious disease, including COVID-19, among others. Emory research continues to break records for funding, which advances innovation and discovery even further. Therapeutics developed at Emory have helped save countless lives since their inception. There have been 26 total FDA-approved drugs born at Emory – with many more in varying levels of clinical testing. We are proud to also have a total of 24 medical devices with 510(k) approval that have reached the market. 

At what point does your office get involved in faculty research? What kinds of resources can you provide to them to move their technologies out of the lab and into the clinic?

Emory UniversityOur office helps to educate researchers about intellectual property and the process of technology transfer. We get involved on the front end by helping our faculty members secure necessary materials for their research through our MTA and DUA team. We have dedicated team members who scout for research results with potential intellectual property (IP) for disclosure and help facilitate the development of start-up companies based on Emory IP. Our licensing team evaluates research disclosures for commercial viability, markets intellectual property, and negotiates license arrangements. We have a patent team in our office who work to protect intellectual property and administer the process used (e.g., patent, trademark, copyright). We are involved in monitoring existing commercial licenses for compliance with terms, collecting and distributing funds associated with licenses, and administering the transfer of research developments. We also ensure our compliance with Federal or research sponsor guidelines. 

Can you tell us about the criteria you use to determine which technologies your office allocates resources to?

Every potential technology receives an initial commercial evaluation report (CER) within three months of disclosure, performed by the assigned licensing associate. At around four months, all technologies deemed “active” will receive a non-confidential summary. Two months prior to conversion on all unlicensed technologies, a second CER is completed to determine the investment decision that includes updated information from the initial report, as well as a marketing or development plan, any 3rd party contacts, and any information needed from the investigator to support our office’s decision. Lastly, three months before national phase on all unlicensed technologies, a third CER report is prepared to update the prior report in terms of outstanding questions, development stage, and marketing status. At each stage, a copy of the report is provided to the faculty for review and feedback. There is also an oral presentation and group discussion and decision on all technologies at each stage except for research tools, emergency provisionals, and technologies managed by another party. We believe that we can engage in better decision making when we do it together, so nearly every decision made is done as a team. 

What are the historical focus areas for Emory research? Are there any emerging areas coming out of Emory labs that you have noticed recently? 

Emory LabFor many years, drug discovery at Emory has been a huge focus. Since the first Emory-developed drug received FDA approval in 2001, drug discovery efforts for diseases such as cancer, HIV, and other infectious diseases have been prominent. In 2013, I sounded the bell for an obscure drug called EIDD-2801, developed by George Painter as a countermeasure against equine encephalitis. Painter later found that it worked against certain respiratory viruses, such as influenza, and eventually, EIDD-2801 evolved into molnupiravir, the first oral antiviral pill approved in the world to treat COVID-19. Recently, there has been an increase in technologies related to artificial intelligence and machine learning. Earlier this year, Emory launched an AI.Humanity initiative to shape the AI revolution to better human health, generate economic value, and promote social justice. The initiative aims to recruit 60-75 new faculty over the next three to five years, hired through each of Emory’s nine schools. Emory will lead the way in realizing the potential of these revolutionary technologies to improve the human condition and advance our world. Of our therapeutic products Emory’s Dennis Liotta and his team patented emtricitabine and lamivudine, two antiretroviral medicines that transformed HIV treatment and made it possible for people to manage the disease and they are currently included 20 FDA approved drugs. Emtricitabine was licensed in 1996 to Triangle Pharmaceuticals, which was purchased by Gilead Sciences, and these inventions ultimately culminated in a $525 million royalty sale in 2005, the largest ever at the time in higher education.

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, can you tell us how your office has had to adapt for promising technologies that address the issues of the pandemic, needing to move towards commercialization quicker than ever?

Our team has been fantastic in evaluating these technologies quickly and deciding whether patent protection is warranted. A few technologies that were already in development were able to shift focus quickly to address the pandemic and have had success in reaching the market. Our work as a tech transfer office has never been more important, and the pandemic brought about an increased sense of urgency for innovations related to COVID-19, which led to record levels of funding made available to help push those innovations forward. Companies are also moving more quickly to bring these COVID-19 related products, especially therapeutics and diagnostics, to market, and we are fortunate that two of our products are among those. The challenge moving forward is that there are countless other diseases that could benefit from similar accelerated timelines and funding. The hope for the future is that we will be able to apply the lessons we learned during the pandemic to improve the future of technology commercialization.

Atlanta is a city that has been actively expanding resources for life science technologies in the last few years. What do you see as Emory's role in the local ecosystem?

Emory OTT is heavily involved with local organizations such as Georgia Bio and Southeast Life Sciences. We will often do sponsorships at events held by these organizations and almost always attend. I currently serve as the Academic Council Co-Chair on the Georgia Bio management board and am a board member for Southeast Life Sciences. Prior to the merger between Southeast Bio and Southeastern Medical Device Association (SEMDA), I was a former Chair of the Board of Directors of Southeast Bio. Emory is a major technology provider and that is a critical role that we play in the local ecosystem. We are an important partner for companies that are actively looking for technologies. 

Can you tell us about the most recent successful start-ups out of Emory?

Emory UniversityWe’ve had many successful start-ups come out of Emory, but there’s a few that come to mind. Clearside Biomedical recently announced FDA approval of their product XIPERE™ for the treatment of Macular Edema associated with Uveitis. This was a remarkable achievement, as it was not only the first commercial product developed by Clearside, but also the first approved therapeutic delivered in the suprachoroidal space. Antios Therapeutics has made highly impressive funding efforts, most recently closing a Series B-1 financing round that raised $75 million, and this is after they raised $96 million in a Series B round in early 2021, which is currently the second largest Series B round in Emory start-up history. Antios has also engaged in human clinical trials for their orally administered treatment against hepatitis B. In the medical device space, TendoNova announced in early 2022 that their Ocelot surgical tool received FDA 510(k) clearance. Their technology hopes to facilitate expanded access to microinvasive procedures. Lastly, Aligos Therapeutics announced a remarkable Initial Public Offering in late 2020 and has since submitted 2 clinical trial applications, as well as closed a $125 million Series B financing round. This is currently the largest Series B round in Emory start-up history.

What has been your experience working with VIC and how can VIC support your efforts at Emory?

We have just begun to work with VIC on our first technology opportunity. We get excited about new venture partners and are excited for the opportunity to work together and learn more about each other. We appreciate the transparent way that VIC has worked with us so far, making it easier to come to conclusions and expect that the licensing process will run pretty smoothly.

Please feel free to add any other topics you’d like to discuss.

Many years ago, our office ordered a bell, hung it up outside my office, and started a new tradition. We were looking for a way to share with our staff that a new agreement had been signed that was more interesting than just sending an email. We bounced around several ideas around but landed on the age-old tradition of bell ringing. Now, we ring the bell for every AUTM reportable license agreement signed. When we ring the bell, anyone who is in earshot applauds. These days, it’s more of a digital tradition due to our hybrid schedules, but we still celebrate! Our office has a deal-making culture, and we get excited about every single deal that we make, so we work to celebrate them as much as possible.