A start-up company established by a Nobel Laureate chemist is the first tenant in the UTech Dorm Room, a cooperative research laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin's College of Pharmacy.
Altermune, based in Irvine, Calif., has begun operations in the UTech Dorm Room wet laboratory.
Dr. Kary Banks Mullis, a 1993 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, established Altermune, a company that seeks to use the body's own immune system to specifically target and attack infectious diseases and cancers through "programmable immunity." Using the body's natural antibody defense, Altermune drugs work to redirect antibodies to specific cellular biomarkers using modified nucleic acids called aptamers.
"We are delighted to welcome as our first tenant a research company with such impressive credentials from its founder," said Dr. Lynn Crismon, dean of the College of Pharmacy at the university. "Altermune is on the forefront of the battle against infectious diseases. I am delighted that our professional degree students as well as our graduate scholars will have opportunity for interaction in these research efforts."
The UTech Dorm Room is a cooperative venture between the College of Pharmacy, the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) and the City of Austin.
While most labs at the university are devoted to the research of a particular faculty member, the UTech Dorm Room is designed to provide bioscience entrepreneurs outside the university community the opportunity to contractually reserve wet lab space as they test and develop their technologies and potential products.
"There are few start-up incubator facilities in a city where bioscience entrepreneurs are flourishing," said Bradley Hall, lead scientist for Altermune's product development. "Wet lab space is required for bioscience research and Altermune is excited to begin work in the UTech Dorm Room. As a former UT graduate student and research educator through the Freshman Research Initiative, I look forward to working with bright students and world-class professors."
The City of Austin, through its economic development department, committed $35,000 to assist in purchasing equipment and in refurbishing the lab space. The funds will also support the salary of the lab management.
"I am proud of the innovative partnership between the City of Austin and the University of Texas," Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said. "Our partnership has helped establish an environment for individuals and companies engaged in the bio-science industry to test and develop their life sciences technologies."
Dr. Janet Walkow, director of the College of Pharmacy's Drug Dynamics Institute that oversees UTech Dorm Room operations, said the facility fills a needed service in the city's emerging technology workforce.
Wet labs, she said, provide water, ventilation and built-in safety features needed to test chemicals, drugs or other material or biological matter. This type of lab facility can be expensive to outfit and maintain.
"Austin is a city that embraces progressive thinkers," she said. "The addition of the UTech Dorm room helps fill a void in services needed by these folks who will open doors to treatments that benefit us all. We couldn't be more delighted to welcome Altermune as our first tenant."
Dr. Cindy WalkerPeach, ATI Biosciences director, said the agreement with the first tenant is a success story in Central Texas to support life sciences and biotechnology startups.
"The UTech Dorm Room is the beginning of our long-term plans to encourage interaction between healthcare-focused start-up companies and university faculty and to reduce facility barriers to commercialization.
"Access to wet labs is critical for proof of concept testing in bioscience, yet space is rare and very expensive," she continued. "We all -- ATI, the City of Austin, UT's College of Pharmacy -- worked tirelessly to create the UTech Dorm Room, and to make sure it extends beyond university students to serve industry needs overall. Welcoming Altermune is a huge validation of this commitment."