UGA innovators receive Georgia life sciences industry awards

Companies and innovators with scientific roots at the University of Georgia were recognized by Georgia Bio, the state’s life sciences industry association at its annual awards dinner in January.

Companies and innovators with scientific roots at the University of Georgia were recognized by Georgia Bio, the state’s life sciences industry association at its annual awards dinner in January.

“The Georgia Bio annual awards recognize industry leaders, key innovations and strategic financing deals that highlight the rapidly growing life science industry in Georgia,” said Derek Eberhart, director of Innovation Gateway, which oversees UGA’s licensing and startup program. “The bioscience industry is vital to Athens and Georgia, it generates jobs for university graduates, and catalyzes industry-university research partnerships, which lead to new products and companies that benefit not only the citizens of Georgia, but of the nation and the world.”

According to Georgia Bio, the life sciences industry and university research, together with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have a $20 billion annual economic impact in Georgia and employ more than 94,000 people.

Meredian Holdings Group (MHG) and the University of Georgia were honored with the 2016 Phoenix Award, sponsored by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Georgia Bio to recognize industry-academic partnerships that make outstanding contributions to the growth of the state’s bioscience industry. Georgia-based MHG, which has a long-standing collaboration with UGA’s College of Engineering, develops sustainable and renewable bioplastics to improve peoples’ lives at work and home. MHG recently expanded their research and development capabilities in Athens through a partnership with UGA, which allowed them to open a specialty lab in UGA’s Innovation Gateway incubator. The enhanced partnership will facilitate broader collaboration across campus through increased funding for graduate assistantships and research that will lead to new innovations and products.

“UGA has been the co-recipient of the Phoenix award for the most compelling industry-academic collaboration in Georgia for two of the last three years, signifying UGA’s commitment to industry partnerships,” said David Lee, UGA vice president for research.

“We are building on our legacy of successful industry partnerships through new initiatives, including staff dedicated to efficiently executing industry-sponsored research contracts, and the recent addition of a director of Discovery and Innovation Partnerships to broaden and strengthen UGA’s portfolio of industry partnerships.”

In addition to the Phoenix Award, three other awardees had ties to UGA research. Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Synageva BioPharma Corporation were among the Georgia companies receiving “Deal of the Year” recognition for 2015 for transactions critical to bringing novel drugs and technologies to patients in need. Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a global biopharmaceutical company developing life-transforming therapies for patients with devastating and rare diseases, completed the acquisition of UGA startup company Synageva BioPharma in June 2015. Synageva, which graduated from UGA’s Innovation Gateway startup incubator in 2013, was founded as Avigenics by UGA emeritus professor of genetics Robert Ivarie. Alexion has received approval in the U.S. and EU to market Kanuma™, a rare-disease therapy produced using technology originally discovered at UGA.

Abeome Corporation, a resident company in the Innovation Gateway startup incubator, was honored with the Innovation Award, which recognizes unique technological breakthroughs. Abeome developed and commercialized the AbeoMouse™, a triple-transgenic mouse engineered with an enhanced immune response that allows rapid identification of the most advanced antibody drug candidates. The company was founded on technology developed by Distinguished Research Professor Richard Meagher, department of genetics, and licensed from the University of Georgia Research Foundation. The company is partnering with biopharma companies to develop novel therapeutics for a variety of diseases.

Kausar Samli, associate founder and chief executive officer of Glycosensors & Diagnostics, was named one of two 2016 Emerging Leaders of the Year by Georgia Bio. The award honors young professionals for outstanding contributions to the growth of Georgia’s life sciences community. Samli was recognized for his leadership in managing Glycosensors & Diagnostics, an Innovation Gateway resident company with five employees and over $3 million in research grant funding, to develop enabling technologies for applications in glycoscience. Besides being active in the Georgia life sciences community, Samli – who received his Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from UGA – is also active in the Athens entrepreneurial community, specifically volunteering his time with the community-based Four Athens and the UGA-based Thinc initiatives.