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Georgiou Named Inventor Of The Year By UT Austin

Georgiou Named Inventor Of The Year By UT Austin

The University of Texas at Austin has honored two scientists who have made important contributions to the medical field, George Georgiou and James McGinity, with its Inventor of the Year Award.


Georgiou, professor in the College of Natural Sciences and the Cockrell School of Engineering, has invented 15 distinct technologies that have been licensed to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and that have had a true impact in the world of therapeutics. He co-founded Æglea Biotherapeutic Holdings, LLC, an Austin-based venture-funded company pursuing clinical evaluation of two protein therapeutics discovered at UT Austin.

The other recipient, James McGinity, is a chair emeritus in the School of Pharmacy who invented a technology that deters the abuse of orally delivered opioid medications.

The award recognizes both men for commercializing industry-changing technologies, preparing students to follow in their footsteps and proving that What Starts Here Changes the World.

"If necessity is the mother of invention, then surely education is its father,"says UT President Bill Powers. "When the two come together in a place like The University of Texas at Austin, magnificent things happen."

George Georgiou: Rethinking Cancer Treatment

In 2013, Nature Biotechnology named Georgiou one of the world’s top 20 translational researchers, and his far-reaching body of work backs up that honor.

His inventions account for 15 distinct technologies, and more than half of his 75 issued and pending patents have been licensed or optioned. By comparison, only about 5 percent of patent applications from academic institutions are licensed.

“George is an amazing person, and he really straddles the fence between doing great basic science and great applied science,” says Everett Stone, a research scientist who works with Georgiou. “He’s an engineer by background, but he delves into every area. He’s not afraid to change direction — he just goes for it. The work over his career spans hundreds of different avenues, and he’s been highly successful in all of them.”

After working with an antibody being developed for the treatment and prophylaxis of inhalational anthrax disease, Georgiou co-founded Aeglea Biotherapeutics with Stone to pursue clinical evaluation of protein therapeutics he discovered at the university.

“The main advantage of protein therapeutics,” Georgiou says, “is they are very precise in the way they act to treat a disease. As opposed to chemotherapeutic agents and other small molecule drugs that are usually taken orally and are more likely to have a number of side effects, because their mode of action is much broader.”

Georgiou creates those protein therapeutics to target specific amino acids, taking advantage of a cancerous cell’s metabolic vulnerability and, in turn, selectively killing only the tumor.

Credit: University of Texas at Austin


“We take human enzymes and re-design them so that they can destroy the metabolite the cancer cells need,” Georgiou explains. “Then we inject them into the patient, and the enzyme circulates in the blood. It destroys the metabolite, and then the patient is depleted from that particular metabolite. The cancer cells cannot grow, but the normal cells are unaffected.”

Georgiou’s students and colleagues agree he’s one of the busiest people on campus, but he always finds the time and energy to offer guidance and keep projects on track. That persona, say those who know him well, drives other industry and academic leaders to want to collaborate with Georgiou.

“Whenever he’s looking at taking on a new project, he does this check to see if it’s worthwhile and if somebody would want to use it,” says Brandon DeKosky, one of Georgiou’s graduate research assistants. “That’s the driving force behind why so much of his work gets out there — he makes sure whatever he’s working on is going to be useful.”

[Learn about Georgiou’s former student Jennifer Maynard and how she’s working on a better way to treat whooping cough.]

Georgiou, who is among the “Top 100 Eminent Chemical Engineers of the Modern Era,” according to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, arrived on the Forty Acres in 1987 as an assistant professor of chemical engineering, and he’s spent his entire career here. Universities, Georgiou says, are the best “engines of innovation,” where ideas that impact our society are first developed.

“I think of problems where I can have an impact,” Georgiou says. “The motivation is not really to be considered an inventor. The motivation is primarily to be able to do something that is meaningful.”

The Inventor of the Year Awards were presented by the Office of Technology Commercialization at a ceremony in Austin on Wednesday, November 12.

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Saturday, 18 September 2021

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