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Innovation Park a collaborative place for research

Madeline Buckley | Thursday, November 12, 2009

Innovation Park has been promoted as a facility that will bring University research into the marketplace as a profitable business venture.

But what does this mean for Notre Dame students and faculty?

For professor and director of the Freimann Life Science Center Mark Suckow, Innovation Park is a possible place to launch a business to market his development of cancer vaccines.

Although Suckow has not committed to using Innovation Park, he is looking into the facility as a starting point to commercialize his vaccines. The Park, funded by multiple sources, including federal, state and local governments, the University and private donors, offers labs, offices and high technology conference rooms to its tenants.

Suckow is working on developing tissue vaccines for cancer, more specifically, an adjuvant, which he said is something that helps a vaccine work more effectively.

“We can reduce the incident of prostate cancer by 90 percent in rodents. We have also shown that we can reduce the growth of ovarian cancer by 70 percent,” he said of the vaccine’s progress. “Both of these technologies hold significant commercial potential.”

Along with a business partner, Suckow is continuing to develop the vaccine adjuvant while looking for a place to house a business to market the research.

“The road to market in a lot of these things is a long road, but you have to start somewhere,” he said.

Gregory Crawford, dean of the College of Science, said one of the biggest advantages Innovation Park offers to professors and people in business is the opportunity to network.

“It’s a physical place, a tangible asset that brings people together that otherwise wouldn’t meet,” Crawford said. “You can bump elbows with investors and state officials. These types of connections were accidental before but now these collisions will be intentional.”

Suckow said this opportunity to collaborate with people in business, science and government is a big draw to using Innovation Park.

“There will be opportunities to interact with other entrepreneurs — people experienced in bringing ideas to market,” Suckow said. “The overall layout was skillfully planned to really sort of enhance interaction.”

Crawford said the University hopes to get students involved in the projects at Innovation Park.

“It will be a terrific experience for students to see how companies start and how an idea in a professors head can transform into a business,” he said.

Innovation Park also offers several internship opportunities for students, Crawford said.

Some students are currently taking classes at Innovation Park as well. The University’s Engineering, Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence Master’s Program (ESTEEM) was one of the Park’s first tenants, Robert Alworth, director of the program, said.

Alworth said the Master’s Program, which combines business and science to help students commercialize new technology, is now headquartered at Innovation Park.

“We are renting access to what’s called the Greenhouse, which is a big common area on first floor of Innovation Park,” he said. “Other tenants will be in the Greenhouse doing research or working on business plans. Students will be interacting with them on casual basis.

“The theory is that the tenants will also get the opportunity to interact with other tenants and other students there working on similar problems. You interact with other people there and interact with Innovation Park staff for guidance and help making connections.”

The ESTEEM program also rents office space and classroom space in the Park, Alworth said.

“There have been a few challenges with waiting for the building to be finished, but it’s a beautiful facility,” he said.

Crawford said Innovation Park is part of an effort to increase the University’s research potential.

“As a research institution, we want to increase our research visibility on the outside,” he said. “[Innovation Park] is a pipeline. It takes some time for other people to take research and translate it into societal, health or environmental good. If something looks attractive and fits well with the Notre Dame mission, we can then take it to next level and market it.”