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UTRF Innovation Awards Celebrate UTHSC Researchers


The University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) celebrated the researchers whose achievements are making life better locally, nationally, and globally at its annual Innovation Awards ceremony, held December 14 at the Mooney Library at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) in Memphis.

Dr. Ramesh Narayanan

The Innovation Awards recognize researchers from all over the UT System who partner with UTRF to bring their innovations to market. “Turning research into practical, sustainable solutions calls for resilience, adaptability, and market savvy. Let’s collectively celebrate the foundational research successes that made this year extraordinary,” said UTRF Vice President Todd Ponzio, PhD. As a part of the technology transfer process, UTRF vets invention disclosures, aids inventors through the patent application commercialization processes, executes license agreements, and supports investment efforts.

Researchers at UTHSC were recognized for their discoveries and commercialization. Honorees included 22 inventors who patented nine technologies, and 17 researchers who secured nine licenses.

Ramesh Narayanan, PhD, MBA, professor in the Department of Medicine, and Eric Muirhead, professor of Pathology, won the Innovator of the Year Award and served as the keynote speaker for the event. Dr. Narayanan, who also serves as deputy director of the UT Health Science Center’s Cancer Center, is known for his research on small molecule drug discovery, translational oncology research, and his focus on the fundamental mechanisms of action for diseases, therapeutic targets, and new chemical entities.

During his 10 years at UTHSC, Dr. Narayanan has received 65 patents (out of his portfolio of 125 patents), licensed seven programs to biotech, developed one drug that is now in Phase I clinical trial for prostate cancer, and another that is in development and about to enter clinic trial for Kennedy’s disease.

In his keynote address, Dr. Narayanan said his accomplishments serve as “a testimony to the rich culture and fertile environment available to innovate” at UTHSC. He spoke about the importance of perseverance and grit when embarking on the path to pursuing commercialization, citing the many setbacks he has endured along the way. “But all the struggles are worth it when our discoveries change patients’ lives,” he said.

In addition to being named Innovator of the Year, Dr. Narayanan also recently received notice of a $1.88 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke supporting his work on novel selective androgen receptor degraders to treat Kennedy’s disease.

More on the 2023 awards is available on the UTRF website.