Recent Success Stories
Selected stories about innovations the MIT TLO has helped commercialize or license.
Computational Solutions • Boston, MA
MIT research results in fast and highly accurate simulation tools for the mainstream engineering market
Current engineering software requires too much expertise and too much time, so engineers today often avoid these tools and develop suboptimal designs as a result. Twelve years of research in Prof. A.T. Patera's group at MIT led to the award of the largest Deshpande Innovation grant at MIT in 2011 and to the subsequent founding of Akselos. Akselos takes the pain out of high-fidelity engineering simulations and makes them 100x to 1000x faster. It empowers mainstream engineers to do detailed simulation and reduce the costs associated with over-engineering and excessive "safety factors". Fortified by proprietary licenses from MIT, the company secured major industrial firms as customers within a year. Akselos is also committed to promoting computational technology in education.
Robotics • Quincy, MA
MIT spins out underwater robotics world leader
During the hunt for signs of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370—which disappeared on March 8, 2014 after deviating for unknown reasons from its scheduled flight path—all eyes turned to a company that got its start at MIT. Bluefin Robotics spun out of MIT in 1997 by a core group of engineers from the MIT Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Lab and is the maker of the Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), which was deployed in the search for the missing airliner. At just 21 inches in diameter, the unmanned submersible can descend two-and-a-half miles below the ocean's surface to scan the seafloor using a sonar payload. Bluefin, a Battelle company, develops, builds, and operates AUVs and related technologies for defense, commercial, and scientific customers worldwide.
Biotechnology/Pharmaceuticals • Cambridge, MA
MIT startup provides rapid, cost-effective microRNA profiling, which is beneficial for diagnosing diseases
Current methods of detecting microRNA (miRNA)—gene-regulating molecules implicated in the onset of various diseases—can be time-consuming and costly. The custom equipment used in such tests costs more than $100,000, and the limited throughput of these systems further hinders progress.
Two MIT alumni are solving this problem through their fast-growing, Cambridge-headquartered startup, Firefly BioWorks Inc., which provides technology that allows for rapid miRNA detection in a large number of samples using standard lab equipment. This technology has helped the company thrive - and has the potential to increase the body of research on miRNA, which could help lead to better disease diagnosis and screening.
The company’s core technology, called Optical Liquid Stamping (OLS)—which was invented at MIT by Firefly co-founder and Chief Technical Officer Daniel C. Pregibon PhD ’08—works by imprinting (or stamping) microparticle structures onto photosensitive fluids. The resulting three-dimensional hydrogel particles, encoded with unique “barcodes”, can be used for the detection of miRNAs across large numbers of samples. These particles are custom-designed for readout in virtually any flow cytometer, a cost-effective device that’s accessible to most scientists.
Pregibon developed the technology in the lab of MIT chemical engineering professor, Patrick Doyle, a Firefly co-founder who serves on the company’s scientific advisory board. Firefly licensed its fundamental technology through MIT’s TLO, and has since developed additional improvements.
Materials • Cambridge, MA
MIT startup on the cutting-edge of high-performance, functional surface treatments.
GVD Corporation launched from MIT in 2001 to commercialize a technology developed in Professor Karen Gleason’s laboratory. Research and development led to innovative markets and applications while advancing materials and processing methods, culminating in a solid patent portfolio. Ongoing development in polymer vapor deposition technology provides an ever-growing opportunity for GVD expansion, tackling new markets and breaking ground for advanced products.
GVD’s strength lies in the ability to deposit typically insoluble polymers using a low temperature, dry vacuum process that results in an extremely uniform, chemically pure, nano-scale coating. The technology is not limited to a single coating chemistry, but is a platform for at least 70 polymers, all proven on the laboratory scale through academic publications.
GVD’s technology enables numerous applications. Its flagship material, a room-temperature deposition of PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene), allows the company to add the lubricious and non-stick properties of a fluoropolymer on almost any surface - metal, plastic, fabric, or paper - dramatically improving the performance of industrial manufacturing processes.
Cosmetics • Cambridge, MA
MIT scientists partner with beauty industry experts to solve common beauty concerns
In 2004, Dr. Robert Langer, MIT Professor and world-renowned biotech inventor, teamed up with Jon Flint and Dr. Amir Nashat, partners in the international venture capital firm Polaris Venture Partners. They took a look at the beauty industry and the composition of beauty products. They discovered that, for both hair and skin products, the beauty industry has relied on the same, off the shelf ingredients, most of them far too ineffective to make any real or lasting impact.
The company’s founders assembled a team of scientists from outside the beauty industry - scientists from pharma, biotech and medicine - who had no preconceived notions of what could or could not be possible in beauty products. While many of the Langer Lab’s discoveries are focused on fighting disease, one discovery - actually derived from a way to create new materials, originally intended to treat prostate and ovarian cancer - has created a stir in the beauty world. It's called polyfluoroester, and the molecule is the basis of a new and extremely successful line of products that tame frizzy hair.
Medical Devices • Wellesley, MA
MIT technology drastically reduces need for repeat cancer surgeries
Cancer surgery is a critical step in the overall treatment of cancer. The goal in all cancer surgeries is to remove all of the cancerous tissue; however, surgeons do not have adequate tools to immediately detect cells left behind after initial tumor resection. The only way to be sure is to wait for the definitive pathology report to come back – days after the surgery is complete.
Lumicell is changing this with a hand-held imaging system that will give surgeons real-time, comprehensive feedback about whether any cancer is left behind in the tumor bed following initial resection. The Lumicell system combines a hand-held, single-cell detection imaging device with a wide field of view, based on exclusively licensed MIT technology, combined with a cancer-specific imaging agent developed by Lumicell that emits fluorescence when in contact with cancer cells. This intraoperative detection system provides surgeons with the needed tools to perform a thorough removal of any residual cancer cells in real time, thus eliminating the need for repeat surgeries and drastically improving the current standard of care.
Biotechnology/Pharmaceuticals • Cambridge, MA
MIT technology provides the basis for improving existing drugs, the development of novel drugs and the discovery of new biological processes
Sugar molecules play critical roles in regulating biologicalprocesses and pathways within the human body, but early efforts to explore the biological role of sugars were constrained by the absence of tools to fully analyze these complex sugars. In 2001, Momenta Pharmaceuticals was founded based on technology discovered and developed by MIT scientists, Dr. Robert Langer and Dr. Ram Sasisekharan, for the precise sequencing of sugar molecules. By applying this innovative technology to its discovery and development programs, Momenta has become a leader in the analysis, characterization and design of complex pharmaceutical products, creating a robust pipeline of innovative generic and novel medicines. Momenta Pharmaceuticals completed its public offering in 2004, and currently has a patent estate of over 100 patents and applications.
Energy • San Francisco, CA
MIT technology may reduce our dependence on oil
Siluria has developed a catalytic process to convert natural gas into ethylene that can be used to make materials normally derived from petroleum. On the basis of technology developed by Angela Belcher, a professor of bioengineering at MIT, the company’s process of oxidative coupling of methane directly converts methane into ethylene through the use of a catalyst that doesn’t consume energy. Ethylene, a key component of many petrochemicals, is itself a $150 billion annual business. The ethylene can then be converted to a variety of petroleum derivatives through additional proprietary processes developed by Siluria. If Siluria can convert natural gas to transportation fuels and commodity chemicals, it could make natural gas a large-scale alterative to oil. Since its inception, Siluria has raised almost $100 million, garnered the support of the nation’s top venture capital firms, and formed strategic partnerships with leading energy companies.
MIT thesis leads to a multimillion-dollar payday
In the early 2000’s, Todd Zion PhD ‘04 began chemically modifying insulin for diabetes in MIT’s Nanostructured Material Research Laboratory. The modified insulin would automatically adjust to fluctuating levels of blood glucose, requiring just a single shot of insulin per day. In 2003, he licensed this drug as SmartInsulin through MIT’s TLO and cofounded the company SmartCells to further develop the drug. In 2010, Merck & Co. bought them for a substantial up-front sum and potential milestone payments of $500 million more if it’s successful—an unprecedented pre-clinical stage deal.
Social Media/Measurement • Boston, MA
MIT technology contributes to an increased understanding of social behavior
Born from the MIT Media Lab, Sociometric Solutions creates technology for monitoring employees in the workplace. The company was founded by Ben Waber, Daniel Olguin-Olguin, Taemie Kim, and Prof. Alex "Sandy" Pentland from the Human Dynamics Laboratory at MIT and Tuomas Jaanu from Aalto University in Finland. While it is widely acknowledged that effective communication and knowledge transfer are crucial to an organization's success, these behaviors are very difficult to measure. Surveys and human observers provide biased, limited views into communication behaviors, which is of little practical usefulness for organizations. Sociometric Solutions focuses on measuring real-world social behavior using sensor-rich Sociometric Badges. These wearable electronic sensing devices are capable of, among other things: capturing face-to-face interactions, extracting social signals from speech and body movement, and measuring proximity and location of users.