Engineered mouse brings University of Minnesota $1M

Published 1:38 pm Sunday, July 29, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS — The University of Minnesota has received over $1 million in revenue over the last 15 years from a mouse that was engineered to help treat a type of cancer.

Researchers use the mouse to study the genetics of a bone marrow cancer called multiple myeloma and create better genetic testing for myeloma therapy. The mouse’s plasma cells are used an antibodies to detect cancer cells.

“Our goal is to identify the best therapy based on genetic markers,” said Brian Van Ness, a university professor who helped develop the mouse. “This is a generally incurable cancer. Therapy has gotten a lot better (but) it’s not perfect and it doesn’t work for everybody.”

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Researchers used bacteria to create a gene that prevents cell death. They injected that DNA into an embryo of a female mouse so the offspring would have that gene. Researchers then created a second mouse in order to examine cells that won’t die while also developing cancerous tumors.

“It wasn’t until we bred it with a second mouse, that caused its genes to proliferate, that we had the combination of (cell) proliferation and no death,” Van Ness said.

The mouse was licensed to Cell Signaling Technology, which sells the antibodies. The university receives four percent of all sales, according to the license agreement.

It’s rare for a licensed animal to generate so much revenue, Van Ness said.

The license for the mouse will expire in 2021, said Anne Hall, the technology portfolio manager in the university’s Office for Technology Commercialization.