2023 Technology Showcase Highlights How Partnerships Move the Science Forward
September 28, 2023By Victoria Brun
Mary Ellen Hackett
Manager, Communications Office
With 100 online attendees, 180 in-person participants, 15 posters, 16 technologies, and 45 speakers, the 2023 Technology Showcase offered a whirlwind look into the biotechnology innovation happening at the Frederick National Laboratory and National Cancer Institute.
“This is a valuable event to make connections and show potential partners what we can do,” said Maggie Scully, Ph.D., director of the FNL Partnership Development Office said. “We met many interested partners. In fact, we’re developing agreements with two local biotech companies we met at the event.”
Working with the FNL
Larry Matherly, Ph.D., a professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit flew to Frederick to share with attendees his experience partnering with the FNL. Matherly has collaborated with FNL’s Serguei Kozlov, Ph.D., on an innovative metabolism study in a pancreatic mouse model since 2020, and the two discussed their work during a panel discussion.
The study leverages Matherly’s expertise in cancer metabolism and Kozlov’s expertise in genetically engineered mice. The joint research project is enabled by a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA), which Matherly noted “sounds ominous, but it was painless.”
Kozlov explained that this partnership offered an exciting challenge for his laboratory, the Center for Advanced Preclinical Research (CAPR), part of the Laboratory Animal Services Program at FNL. It was the first time his laboratory targeted the metabolic vulnerabilities of pancreatic cancer, and Kozlov said overcoming the resulting learning curve was the most valuable part of the collaboration for him. He plans to leverage his new knowledge to further optimize his cancer models for clinical testing of similar compounds.
Matherly said the collaboration was educational for both, and the two had biweekly calls and “phenomenal communication” to work through any issues.
Vladimir Popov, Ph.D., FNL’s chief innovation officer and panel discussion moderator, asked if there was a downside of working with a national laboratory. Matherly replied, “I don’t see a downside. I look at how it is moving the science forward.”
More than pretty pictures
Each year, the Tech Showcase introduces attendees to FNL- and NCI-developed technologies that are available for licensing as well as laboratories and programs that are available for collaboration.
Marina Dobrovolskaia, Ph.D., co-director of FNL’s Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory highlighted many of the laboratory’s offerings, including the Assay Cascade, a free nanoparticle characterization service for cancer and COVID-19 researchers. To date, the Assay Cascade has helped 23 collaborators move their compounds into clinicals trials. In the past two years, two received FDA approval.
Claire Deleage, Ph.D., joked that she was there to “show pretty pictures”—a promise that she delivered on with her brightly colored RNAscope and DNAscope images—but what she really did was highlight some of the FNL’s AIDS and Cancer Virus Program’s cutting-edge imaging and analytical techniques that support collaborative HIV research.
Jana Ognjenovic, Ph.D., and Thomas Edwards, Ph.D., challenged Deleage in the unofficial competition to show the best images with atomic-resolution images taken by their cryo-electron microscopes. Edwards explained how the National Cryo-EM Facility at the FNL provides free imaging sessions to cancer researchers in the academic and non-profit community.
Tanja Grkovic, Ph.D., highlighted the NCI Natural Products Branch, which is home to one of the world’s largest natural products repositories. The repository includes over 500,000 natural product fractions available free of charge for drug screening studies.
Stephan Stern, Ph.D., and Stephen Adler, Ph.D., both presented on technologies developed at the FNL that are now available for licensing. Stern’s technology is an improved platform for delivering dyes and drugs to lymph nodes or the central nervous system. Adler’s technology would automate the cell radio-labeling process, which is currently a complex manual process with low reproducibility and reliability.
Beyond the technologies
Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor and Frederick County Executive Jessica Fitzwater also spoke at the event, noting their pride in the life sciences ecosystem in Frederick.
Tom Misteli, Ph.D., director of the NCI Center for Cancer Research delivered the keynote address, stressing the importance CCR partners. CCR scientists produces a patent nearly every week, but those patents would languish without industry collaborators to bring them to the market and to patients.
“Commercial partnerships are incredibly important to us for our mission… but what’s actually even more important for us to make progress is our patients,” Misteli said as he introduced patient advocate Jamie Troil Goldfarb.
Goldfarb is a stage IV melanoma cancer survivor who participated in an NCI-sponsored tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes clinical trial. She stressed that her story is a success not just because she is now cancer free, but because a company has licensed the TIL therapy that saved her life, and it is now working to bring the therapy to market.
“This is ultimately the goal of these partnerships,” Scully said, “to expedite hope for patients.”