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Professor Secures Funding from Major Biotech Company to Advance Diabetes Research

March 21, 2013

UC Merced biology Professor Rudy Ortiz is furthering his innovative research into diabetes with support from a major pharmaceutical company.

Ortiz's work, developing new applications for medicines used to treat the effects of insulin resistance, has been funded by Amylin Pharmaceuticals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, to the tune of $192,000 over two years.

Such funding agreements are common on other UC campuses and in comparable research institutions, and this agreement at UC Merced constitutes an important show of faith from the pharmaceutical industry in the young campus’s research capabilities.

“We will evaluate a drug that is traditionally used to address gluco-regulatory imbalance — the hallmark of diabetes — on a different aspect of diabetes,” Ortiz said. “This drug has also been proposed as a potential alternative to alleviate the hypertension associated with diabetes by improving the kidneys’ ability to regulate sodium.”

That’s the new application he’ll be researching, along with undergraduate and graduate students in his lab, under the Amylin funding agreement. If the drug proves useful for this problem, it could help prevent kidney damage in diabetes patients.

David Cepoi of the UC Merced Office of Technology Transfer explained how funding agreements with private industry differ from government grants.

“The mission of federal grants is to sponsor fundamental, basic research, often for the advancement of human knowledge, although sometimes they also lead to societal advancements,” Cepoi said. “Funding agreements tend to be focused on projects related to a company’s business interests. In many cases, the company wishes to fund a project designed to take an initial discovery already made by a university scientist a step or two closer to the market.”

Ortiz has spent his career in this field, so it makes sense for him to work with Amylin. He learned about the company’s funding opportunities through a colleague in the field who is employed there and went through the company's internally reviewed application process to receive the funding agreement.

But Ortiz said the agreement doesn’t have any influence on the work he does.

“As a scientist, my goal is to produce the best hypothesis-driven research that addresses a significant research question,” Ortiz said. “For me, that would be helping to address a global health problem — diabetes. The integrity of the work is maintained and conserved with the same degree of robustness, regardless of the funding source.”

The agreement requires Ortiz to deliver the results of his research to Amylin as the funding entity.

Cepoi, who works with other professors on similar funding agreements in other fields of research, said his office negotiates all the legal and business language contained in agreements with for-profit sponsors, whereas the Sponsored Projects Office provides proposal review and authorization and award acceptance from federal and nonprofit sponsors.

“I like to look at funding agreements as ‘pre-licenses,’ in that licensing new campus-derived technology by the sponsoring company is the ultimate goal,” Cepoi said.

That licensing would benefit UC Merced for years to come, so every step matters.