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Monica M. Jablonski, PhD, Selected as the First User of the UTHSC Innovation Lab Space

Dr. Monica Jablonski

In the Summer edition of The Research Rainmaker, we outlined some of the early wins that have been achieved in just one short year since the Operational Strategic Plan for Research was approved and implemented. One area the UTHSC Office of Research is striving to further support is entrepreneurial ventures. We recognize that our faculty are a powerhouse of ideas that often produce discoveries suitable for intellectual property (IP) development. Toward this end, the Office of Research developed a platform designed to support faculty researchers in their entrepreneurial ventures.

In October, we announced a partnership with the Memphis Bioworks Foundation to provide a dedicated Innovation Lab for our research faculty in the Memphis Bioworks building. We made a 420 square-foot turnkey space available for up to 12 months, at no cost to researchers, as they develop their IP in anticipation of submitting an SBIR and/or STTR proposal. During the 12-month period of occupancy, researchers will have access to standard lab equipment (e.g., tissue culture hood), services, as well as consulting. New companies using the Innovation Lab will be required to submit at least one SBIR and/or STTR grant application during the year of occupancy.

The partnership is pleased to announce Monica M. Jablonski, PhD, Professor of Ophthalmology, has been selected as the first user of the Innovation Lab space. Dr. Jablonski has successfully prepared, optimized and characterized an extended release, multilayered, bioadhesive, topical microemulsion-based formulation for delivery of hydrophilic drugs to the posterior pole of the eye. The microemulsion was created to combat the shortcomings traditionally linked to standard eye drops.

“Our microemulsion is designed to overcome the drawbacks associated with traditional eye drops that include rapid drainage, short corneal contact time and minimal corneal penetration, all of which lead to reduced efficacy and poor patient compliance,” said Dr. Jablonski. “The availability of the UTHSC Innovative Incubator space will allow us to focus on further developing this formulation so that we can increase our chances of success in obtaining SBIR or STTR funds from NIH. In addition, the business development mentoring that is also provided with the lab space will be invaluable to us as we navigate through the business world. I am honored to have been selected.”

Glaucoma affects more than 3 million people in the United States and accounts for over 10 million visits to physicians each year. Researchers predict that with the increased longevity of the US population, the number of people affected by Glaucoma could increase to 6.3 million by 2050. Dr. Jablonski anticipates that her technology will have a large impact on the treatment of ophthalmic diseases as the novel therapeutic can reach deep into the eye, delivering anti-glaucoma agents to hard-to-reach target cells.

“There are currently drugs on the market to treat various conditions of the eye,” said Dr. Jablonski. “However, a drug cannot effectively treat a disease if it can’t reach its target tissue, which is often deep within the eye. This causes a problem because the eye has developed multiple barriers for keeping molecules, bacteria, and other foreign bodies out. We have developed a method for delivering drugs to the cells deep within the eye using topical delivery. We predict that our formulation can be coupled with many drugs and can be used to treat various diseases such as glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration, to name a few.”

Gabor Tigyi, PhD, associate vice chancellor for Research and Industry explains he is encouraged by the research Dr. Jablonski will be doing while in the Innovator Lab Space, and looks forward to seeing her successfully move her idea to market and make a difference for people suffering with glaucoma.

“The review panel of the Innovation Incubator application were very excited about the prospects of the application ‘Novel Once Daily IOP Lowering Formulation’ submitted by OculoTherapy, LLC,” said Dr. Tigyi. “This new drug formulation the company is developing has a market potential that could reach in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”