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Ohio State startup helps focus attention on government-sponsored research

Technology supports early, non-invasive diagnosis of skin and other cancers

A startup spun out of technology from The Ohio State University will be recognized next month in an event highlighting the role of federally funded research.

IR Medtek is one of 22 university-affiliated startup companies from across the nation to participate in the University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Showcase sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Association of American Universities. The showcase highlights the important role of federally funded university research in supporting entrepreneurship and innovation in the U.S. economy. Due to COVID-19, the event will feature a social media campaign instead of a presentation at the Capitol.

IR Medtek LLC was founded in early 2019 in collaboration with the Ohio State Innovation Foundation. The company has licensed technology developed at Ohio State, including the James Cancer Hospital, for the early, non-invasive diagnosis of skin and other cancers.

“Cancer is important to almost everybody – everyone knows somebody who has cancer. There are millions of cases of skin cancer detected each year. It’s becoming an increasingly important problem in the United States,” said James Coe, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio State.

Coe, the chief technology officer at IR Medtek, described the innovation as a fast infrared cancer probe that can aid in determining whether or not an abnormality is cancerous and needs to be investigated more thoroughly.

One of the researchers who developed the infrared probe, Coe said the project would not have progressed without the support of federally funded research.

“Without an NIH grant, I would have never worked on cancer research. I’m a physical chemist. I teach quantum mechanics,” he said. “I learned through that NIH grant that you could take infrared spectrum of tissues and tell whether they had cancer or not. So I would have never worked on the project in the first place without federal funding.”

IR Medtek CEO Doug Cohen said government-sponsored research helps “de-risk” the technology.

“Prior to federal funding, this was just an idea and a concept,” Cohen said. “There was not something that you would have started a company on. It has to advance to a point where somebody like us can come in and say, ‘Okay, this has gotten far enough along that we can consider creating a company.’”

Federal funding wasn’t the only source of support. Coe said the infrared technology was supported by the Ohio State’s Accelerator Awards program, which helps advance successful technologies to the point where they are ready to be licensed to a startup company. The program is funded by the Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-up Fund (TVSF) and Ohio State and administered through Ohio State’s Keenan Center for Entrepreneurship. The company is currently conducting further research on the infrared technology.

“We are conducting the first phase of two feasibility studies to really prove out the technology, that it will work specifically in the commercialization path that we’re on,” Cohen said. “We are about halfway through the first study and the results have been very positive.”

Upon validation of the technology in a clinical context, IR Medtek intends to proceed with commercialization of the technology.

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