Published: Feb. 8, 2007

Discovery to Market: Fact Sheet


MSU researchers made a serendipitous discovery in the 1960s that led to the widely used cancer drugs cisplatin and carboplatin. MSU acquired patents for the intellectual property and licensed the inventions to a pharmaceutical company that developed and marketed the products. MSU (and the inventors) got a healthy stream of royalty payments, the local economy got an important boost, and thousands of people lived longer, better lives because those medicines stopped the growth of their cancers.

Since then, many other research results have moved into the marketplace, bringing new jobs with them. Some examples:

Smart lasers promise cutting-edge technology – and jobs

MSU chemistry professor Marcos Dantus and colleagues have developed lasers with rapid, ultra-short pulses that allow researchers to manipulate molecules in fractions of a second, shorter than the time it takes the atoms to move. Applications for Dantus’ smart laser technology include monitoring diseases and enhancing metabolic studies of drug interactions. Homeland security programs might use them to detect chemical, biological and explosive agents. The lasers also may be used as imaging and communication tools. Clark-MXR in Dexter builds the lasers, while software development and the formatting of other system components is done at Dantus’ start-up company, Okemos-based BioPhotonic Solutions Inc. Dantus’ company is one of two SmartZone businesses that have been created in East Lansing’s downtown.
Contact: Marcos Dantus, Chemistry: (517) 355-9715, Ext. 314,

Chemistry for pharmaceuticals

A method for creating boron compounds developed by Milton Smith and Robert Maleczka, MSU associate professors of chemistry, condenses drug-making processes, thereby reducing production and material costs associated with both discovery and production of drugs. Smith and Maleczka’s chemistry operates on the core structures that are present in more than 90 percent of top-selling drugs such as Lipitor. Smith plans to expand his fledgling Dewitt-based company, BoroPharm, adding employees as demand for the compound increases. The company is currently engaged in scale-up experiments to ensure that the compound can be produced on a commercially viable scale.
Contact: Milton Smith, Chemistry: (517) 355-9715, Ext 166,  

MSU research harvests industrial-strength solutions from crops

Diversified Natural Products (DNP) of Scottville . and Agro Industrie Recherches et Dévelopements (ARD) of Pomacle, France, announced a joint venture to produce succinic acid from “green” sources. Succinic acid is in great demand globally for everything from industrial solvents and biodegradable polymers to airport runway de-icers. The company uses natural microbes to make the products, according to MSU University Distinguished Professor Kris Berglund, who is DNP's chief science officer. Fifteen of DNP's patents have sprung from Berglund’s research.
Contact: Kris Berglund, Forestry and Chemical Engineering: (517) 353-4565,  

Starch may deliver drugs—and jobs

Using biodegradable materials derived from agricultural feedstocks like soybeans or corn, Ramani Narayan, professor of chemical engineering and materials science, and his colleagues developed commercial products including films for plastic bags, foamed sheets for packaging, and toys. Magic Nuudles™ are multicolored, cornstarch-based building blocks that look and feel like Styrofoam but are child safe and biodegradable. Now the team is working with EcoSynthetix, a small Michigan company, to study the delivery of anticancer drugs using starch nanospheres only 3 to 4 atoms in diameter. And Narayan has formed a company to develop new delivery systems for ocular drugs. He envisions a tiny starch-based polymer patch that attaches to the eye and gradually delivers medicine as it breaks down. By the time all the medicine is delivered, the patch has been completely assimilated by the body.
Contact: Ramani Narayan, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science: (517) 432-0775,  

Cherries for the dogs

A team of researchers led by Muralee Nair, professor of horticulture, identified anthocyanins in tart cherries and determined that they help shut down the enzymes that cause tissue inflammation. Nair and his co-workers then developed and patenteda process to isolate the therapeutic compounds. Carol and Bob Adams at Overby Farm in Northern Michigan’s cherry country wanted to pass those possible benefits to their dogs, so they licensed the MSU patent and began experimenting with dog biscuits based on the cherry compounds Nair had isolated. The result was cherry Hip Bones, now distributed by the Leland Cherry Company.
Contact: Muralee Nair, Horticulture: (517) 355-5191, Ext 1406,  

Biosensors make sense

Evangelyn “Vangie” Alocilja, associate professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering, develops biosensors that will rapidly detect bioterrorism agents and foodborne pathogens. These tools to protect the nation’s food, water, and agricultural systems are analytical devices that use biological receptors (antibodies, enzymes, DNA, cells, and the like) as sensing elements placed near transducers that translate the binding events between receptors and analytes into electrical signals. The technology is patented and licensed to Agen BioSense, which won the top honor in the 2001 Great Lakes Venture Quest Business Plan Competition.
Contact: Vangie Alocilja, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering: (517) 355-0083,

From carbs to cholesterol drugs

Carbohydrates are plentiful and renewable. Rawle Hollingsworth, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and chemistry, probes the molecular structure of carbohydrates to find applications. One such example includes manufacturing large quantities of a key intermediate needed to produce a cholesterol-lowering drug. Analysts predict sales of this drug will reach $3 billion to $4.5 billion per year. This and other glycochemical intermediates for which MSU holds key patents also will produce cancer, diabetes, antiviral, and antibacterial medications. Hollingsworth also started a business, Synthon Chiragenics, to develop and market his carbohydrate-based chiral technology for pharmaceuticals. Other companies license other technologies.
Contact: Rawle Hollingsworth, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: (517) 353-0613,