George Georgiou Named Inventor of The Year
The award recognizes Georgiou for commercializing industry-changing technologies, preparing students to follow in his footsteps and proving that What Starts Here Changes the World.
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. With 29 issued U.S. patents and 46 patent applications, Georgiou has proven to be one of the most prolific inventors at UT Austin. What uniquely qualifies him as Inventor of the Year is the societal and commercial importance of his developed technologies. His inventions account for 15 distinct technologies, and more than 50 percent of his 75 issued and pending patents have been licensed or optioned to pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies. 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 protein therapeutics to target specific amino acids, taking advantage of a cancerous cell’s metabolic vulnerability and, in turn, selectively killing only the tumor.
“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 chemical engineering 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.”
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.”
Georgiou shares this year’s Inventor of the Year award with James McGinity, chair emeritus in pharmacy, whose work in pharmacy processing and the development of drug delivery systems led to the creation of the first tamper-proof oral formulation of Oxycontin. McGinity’s work is not only promoting appropriate use of the powerful painkiller but also saving lives by reducing the potential for abuse.
Previous Inventor of the Year award recipients include fellow chemical engineering professors Adam Heller and Grant Willson, mechanical engineering professors John Goodenough and S.V. Sreenivasan, and biomedical engineering professor Thomas Milner. Adam Heller was recognized for his less-painful blood-sugar monitor used across the world to continuously and accurately monitor glucose levels in people diabetics, and Grant Willson was honored for developing a nanolithography process used for manufacturing computer chips, hard drives and other electronic components.
About Dr. George Georgiou
George Georgiou is an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He is one of only 37 scientists and engineers to have been elected to both academies. Additionally, he is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Institute for Biological and Medical Engineers. He has received numerous awards including the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Professional Progress Award and was named “One of the Top 100 Eminent Chemical Engineers of the Modern Era” by AIChE. He obtained a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Cornell University and a B.Sc. in chemical engineering from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.
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