University of Georgia

Boons, Ferguson-Noel elected to National Academy of Inventors

Geert-Jan Boons and Naola Ferguson-Noel.
Geert-Jan Boons and Naola Ferguson-Noel.

They are the 13th and 14th UGA faculty members to receive this honor

University of Georgia professors Naola Ferguson-Noel and Geert-Jan Boons have been elected Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors, becoming the 13th and 14th UGA faculty members to receive this honor.

NAI Fellows must demonstrate a “highly prolific spirit of innovation” in creating or facilitating inventions that make a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and welfare of society. Becoming an NAI Fellow is the highest professional distinction awarded solely to academic inventors.

According to the organization, the Fellows collectively hold more than 53,000 issued U.S. patents, which have generated over 13,000 licensed technologies, 3,200 companies and created more than 1 million jobs. This has resulted in more than $3 trillion in revenue based on NAI Fellow discoveries.

Naola Ferguson-Noel.
Naola Ferguson-Noel (Photo by Peter Frey/UGA)

“Naola Ferguson-Noel and Geert-Jan Boons represent the diversity of biomedical research that exists across UGA,” said Karen Burg, UGA vice president for research. “Dr. Ferguson-Noel’s work in mycoplasma vaccines is not only a vital component of the near $500 billion U.S. poultry market, but has a major impact globally for all countries with an intensive poultry industry.

“Dr. Boons’ glycoscience research produces both potentially lifesaving new vaccines and therapeutics, as well as numerous commercial kits currently on the market for the study and labeling of biological samples. Congratulations to Naola and Geert-Jan on this great accomplishment and well-deserved recognition of their contributions in research and invention.”

Boons is the UGA Foundation Distinguished Professor in Biochemical Sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center (CCRC).

Geert-Jan Boons.
Geert-Jan Boons (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

“Being selected as an NAI Fellow represents important recognition for my efforts to translate fundamental into translational research to solve real world biomedical problems,” said Boons.

Boons joined UGA in 1998 and was appointed Franklin Professor of Chemistry in 2004. He and his CCRC colleagues are at the forefront of research to understand the role of “glycans”—the carbohydrate portions of organic molecules—in a wide variety of disease processes, as well as how to modulate glycans for therapeutic benefit.

One notable product of Boons’ research is a carbohydrate-based cancer vaccine. Boons’ carbohydrate-based vaccine is able to train the immune system to distinguish and kill cancer cells based on a special carbohydrate structure found only in cancer cells. This research led to the formation of his startup company, ViaMune.

Boons’ inventions have been awarded 22 U.S. patents and 32 foreign patents, and in 2012 he was selected as UGA Inventor of the Year. His technologies have had significant commercial impact, leading to licenses to multiple companies through 33 license agreements and numerous commercial products. Royalties and development milestones from his inventions have brought over $750,000 to UGA.

“It is very rewarding for my co-workers and me that our research efforts are providing opportunities to develop therapeutics, diagnostics and nutraceuticals that one day may enter the marketplace,” said Boons. “The outstanding research facilities at the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center of UGA and support by Innovation Gateway for commercialization have been key for my team to achieve these goals.”

Ferguson-Noel is a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and a researcher at the Poultry Diagnostic and Research Center (PDRC). Her research has made important contributions in the field of avian mycoplasma gallisepticum, an infectious disease affecting poultry worldwide.

Her key area of service is in providing clinical mycoplasmology services to the national and international industry as part of the PDRC’s diagnostic laboratory. She is the co-inventor of two patented mycoplasma vaccine strains, as well as two more currently in the patent process, and has an array of foreign patents.

“I am tremendously honored to be selected as an NAI Fellow. As a poultry veterinarian with a focus on clinical services and applied research, I did not envision this level of recognition and joining the ranks of such renowned scientists is a source of joy and pride,” said Ferguson-Noel. “My success has been grounded in mentorship and this honor would not have been possible without the support of my many mentors and the support of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Innovation Gateway. I am committed to continue this mentorship journey and my hope is to inspire future leaders in science.”

Ferguson-Noel’s technologies have had a global impact through multiple license agreements with animal health companies including Vaxxinova, Avimex and ECO Animal Health, leading to a commercial poultry vaccine, MG Live, as well as two vaccine products in clinical development. Royalties from her inventions have brought over $1.4 million to UGA from sales in multiple countries.

Boons and Ferguson-Noel will be inducted at the NAI Annual Meeting on June 27, 2023, in Washington, D.C. The elections of UGA’s newest NAI Fellows reflects the growth of the university’s Innovation District since its inception in 2018.