UI Research Park-based company employs more than 800 worldwide

BY: STEPHEN PRADARELLI  |  2013.10.29  |  12:12 PM

Integrated DNA Technologies' headquarters at the UI Research Park. 

A University of Iowa spin-off company, Integrated DNA Technologies, is one of 100 businesses highlighted in a new national report by The Science Coalition demonstrating how federally funded research fuels American innovation and economic growth.

Released today, “Sparking Economic Growth 2.0: Companies Created from Federally Funded Research, Fueling American Innovation and Economic Growth” identifies companies that trace their roots to federally funded university research. While only a tiny fraction of the new companies formed each year, the highlighted companies are contributing to the U.S. economy in a significant way.

The report includes Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT), the world’s largest supplier of custom nucleic acids in the world, as an example of this return on investment.

Founded in 1987, IDT employs 800 people worldwide (558 in the UI Research Park), has annual sales approaching $100 million, and provides products to more than 70,000 customers.

Founded in 1987, making it the longest-running company cited in The Science Coalition report, IDT has stuck close to its Iowa roots. As a biochemistry professor at the UI, founder and CEO Dr. Joseph Walder, was active in the development of anti-sickling compounds and hemoglobin derivative blood substitutes, the cloning of restriction-modification systems, and the development of modified nucleic acids as anti-sense reagents.

Walder’s early research and development of the foundational technology that launched IDT was supported by a combination of grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. The company was created through a partnership with Baxter Healthcare Corporation at the UI Technology Innovation Center (TIC) business incubator in the UI Research Park in Coralville.

In 1987 and 1988, the UI Research Foundation filed patent applications on behalf of IDT and later exclusively licensed them to IDT, which over the next 13 years successfully sublicensed the resulting patents to companies in the genomics and pharmaceutical industries.

The patented technologies relate to the use of nucleic acids (DNA) in research and clinical applications. One technology, called catalytic hybridization amplification, allows researchers or clinicians to detect the presence of a nucleic acid sequence in a sample by designing a DNA probe that is cleaved when it identifies its target sequence. This technology has been used clinically as a diagnostic methodology.

The second technology, in the field of "antisense," allows researchers to determine the function of particular genes in an organism by using specific DNA fragments to inhibit the activity of the targeted genes in cells. The technology has proven to be a valuable research tool helping to unravel many of the functions of the enormous number of genes identified under the Human Genome Project. In addition, antisense technology is being developed by pharmaceutical companies, which use antisense DNA as a therapeutic means to inhibit the activity of genes that cause certain diseases.

Today, IDT has operations in California, Singapore, and Belgium, while maintaining its headquarters in the UI Research Park. The company has more than 800 employees worldwide (558 of them in the UI Research Park) and annual sales approaching $100 million. It provides products to more than 70,000 customers worldwide in both the academic and corporate research marketplace.

In addition to its product-manufacturing mission, the company operates a world-class molecular biology research division that is a proven innovator of novel applications for DNA and RNA-based compounds.

“IDT’s success demonstrates the power of basic research to create long-term dividends to the state economy,” says UI Vice President for Research and Economic Development Dan Reed. “Dr. Walder’s foundational research moved from the laboratory to the marketplace and now enables biotechnology innovation worldwide.

“The new drugs and treatments stemming from IDT’s products have profound implications for human health and improve our daily lives,” Reed adds. “IDT also provides career opportunities that retain talented people in our state.”

 Ellen Prediger, IDT’s director of scientific communication, said research funding continues to be critical to the company’s business and “has allowed us to support our Research Department through Small Business Innovation Research grants, not just for potential product development, but for critical basic research.”

"Research funding makes it possible for scientists to collaborate with our research group and buy our products."
—Ellen Prediger, IDT's director of scientific communication.

She says IDT researchers have published a considerable body of research work, a list of which may be found here.  

“Research funding makes it possible for scientists to collaborate with our research group and buy our products,” she adds.

“Sparking Economic Growth 2.0” says that university research and the companies born from it are a driving force behind much of the innovation in the United States.

“They are bringing forward innovations with the potential to transform industries and solve some of the world’s greatest problems,” the report says. “Since industry conducts relatively little basic research today, the ‘seed corn’ produced at research universities is essential to U.S. industry and its ability to compete.”

The report says that research universities play an important role in the creation and future success of spin-off companies, providing a nurturing environment and critical assistance to researcher-entrepreneurs aiming to bring research discoveries to the marketplace.

The UI assists researchers with bringing their ideas to the marketplace through a wide variety of program supports, including The UI Research Foundation. This 501c3 corporation is the hub of technology commercialization at the university, and it works with faculty and staff to identify and license inventions to companies that bring their inventions to market, as well as helps to develop spin-off companies.

More information about the UI’s commercialization process may be found here, and information about space and other support for companies may be found here.

The Science Coalition is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of more than 50 of the nation’s leading public and private research universities, including the UI. It is dedicated to sustaining the federal government’s investment in basic scientific research as a means to stimulate the economy, spur innovation, and drive America’s global competitiveness.

The new Science Coalition report is available at this website. An accompanying database provides access to company profiles and allows users to sort companies by federal funding agency, university affiliation, type of innovation, and other criteria.