Biotechnologist wins innovation award

1 Jun 2004

A UCD scientist who developed a test for BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) that has so far earned the university €1.3m in royalties has been honoured for his research work.

Dr Mark Rogers of UCD’s Department of Zoology was recently presented with the inaugural NovaUCD Innovation Award, which was established to mark successful commercialisation of intellectual property arising from UCD research.

In 1993, UCD formed a joint venture company, Pharmapro Ltd, with a UK firm Proteus Molecular Design Ltd, now called Protherics plc, to develop commercial diagnostic tests and vaccines for animal diseases including bovine TB and the then emerging disease, BSE.

Dr Rogers conducted the research related to BSE in UCD. He had previously worked with American scientist and Nobel Laureate Professor Stanley Prusiner, who had identified the causative agent for BSE.

His research led to the development of the TSE (Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy) diagnostic technology, which was licensed to Enfer Scientific Ltd in 1996. Enfer subsequently developed a rapid test for BSE using this technology. During 1996 the UK government announced a link between BSE and the human disease, vCJD (variant Crutzfeld-Jacob Disease) that resulted in a surge of interest in BSE diagnostics.

The BSE test, which reduced the time for a BSE diagnosis from 14 days to 3.5 hours, was validated by the Irish Department of Agriculture in 1997. The test became commercially viable in 1999 when the European Commission validated it as one of three tests acceptable for use in the diagnosis of BSE in Europe. As a result, Enfer now sells almost one million BSE test-kits annually, one-third of them in Ireland, and UCD has earned over €1.3m in royalty income to date.

In April of this year, the BSE test was approved by the US Department of Agriculture for distribution within the US in the wake of the first recorded US case of BSE at the end of 2003.

Presenting the NovaUCD Innovation Award 2004 to Dr Rogers, Dr Hugh Brady, president of UCD said: “This event is of wider significance in that it provides a timely demonstration of the growing importance of university research and innovation in the development of a knowledge-based economy in Ireland.”

He added: “There is a growing recognition of the fact that universities are an important national resource and that investment in university research and innovation is fundamental to the successful attraction of high quality foreign investment, particularly R&D investment, and the generation of a high-tech indigenous sector.”

By Brian Skelly