Connecting the Future: How a UC Davis Invention Helped Build Broadband Communications

How a UC Davis Invention Helped Build Broadband Communications

n 1997, when broadband communications and the “World Wide Web” were both in their infancy, two UC Davis professors and a graduate student came up with a better way to route data in fiber optic networks. Their patented invention became a critical component for fiber optic communications around the globe, bringing internet and phone traffic to millions of people. (iStock)

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Jonathan Heritage has never seen a manufactured version of the device he co-invented, although he once saw a prototype at Movaz Networks Inc., the first company to license the patent.

“It fit into one slot on an electronics rack, so it was as wide as that.” Heritage, a retired professor of engineering, held his hands about a foot and a half apart. “It was just a box. But inside, there were a whole lot of electronics, which were needed to drive all those mirrors,” said Heritage.

That nondescript box contained what the telecommunications industry refers to as a wavelength selective switch, known as WSS, a sophisticated device that uses tiny mirrors to route signals between fiber optic cables.

“You can find WSS where a lot of fibers come together for information flow, such as switching facilities in big cities,” said Heritage.

When Heritage and his co-inventors at UC Davis first conceived of WSS in the mid- to late-1990s, broadband was mostly just an idea, and the internet, or more specifically the World Wide Web, was in its infancy but growing rapidly.

In 1997, only 18 percent of U.S. households were using the internet, and Amazon, “the leading online retailer of books,” was only three years old. Google wouldn’t be founded until the following year, and AOL’s 10 million subscribers were mostly using dial-up connections through their telephone lines to get internet access.

About that same time, telecommunications companies were beginning to build fiber optic networks that could carry significantly more data than the traditional copper wire used in the phone systems.

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Neurologic Disease Research at UC Davis Contributes to First Treatment Specifically Approved for Postpartum Depression

Michael Rogawski conducted lab and clinical research on the neuro-steroid

Dorota Zolkowska and Michael Rogawski. Michael Rogawski, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Neurology, and Dorota Zolkowska, a project scientist in Rogawski’s research laboratory, conducted studies resulting in inventions related to allopregnanolone as a potential treatment for neurological diseases.

Dorota Zolkowska and Michael Rogawski. Michael Rogawski, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Neurology, and Dorota Zolkowska, a project scientist in Rogawski’s research laboratory, conducted studies resulting in inventions related to allopregnanolone as a potential treatment for neurological diseases. (Rudy Meyers Photography)

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(SACRAMENTO) — Sage Therapeutics announced March 19 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of its product, Zulresso™ (brexanolone) injection, for the treatment of postpartum depression in women. Initial development of an intravenous formulation of allopregnanolone (also known as brexanolone) and first-in-human clinical studies were conducted by Michael Rogawski, a professor in the UC Davis Departments of Neurology and Pharmacology. Rogawski is former chair of the Department of Neurology.

In laboratory-based and clinical research, Rogawski and his colleagues investigated the neuroactive steroid allopregnanolone as a potential therapeutic agent for neurological diseases. The University of California granted rights to Sage Therapeutics, including licenses to certain patent rights, for the commercial use of allopregnanolone.

This is the first drug approved by the FDA specifically for postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is the most common medical complication of childbirth and affects approximately one in nine women who have given birth in the U.S.

“It’s very exciting to see the development of this treatment reach such a significant milestone, offering new hope to those affected by postpartum depression,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis. “This is a wonderful example illustrating the role UC Davis research plays in helping to address needs around world.”

Neuro-steroid a good candidate for post-partum depression treatment

Allopregnanolone is a naturally occurring neuroactive steroid derived from the female sex hormone progesterone. Rogawski became interested in allopregnanolone as a potential treatment for postpartum depression because studies with neuroactive steroids conducted in his and other laboratories showed antidepressant potential.

“Blood levels of progesterone, and therefore allopregnanolone, rise dramatically as pregnancy progresses, but begin to decrease in late pregnancy and then fall precipitously during the day or two after giving birth,” said Rogawski. “I reasoned that allopregnanolone levels might also fall and I hypothesized that the withdrawal of this endogenous antidepressant substance could trigger depression for some women. This led to the discovery of allopregnanolone as a treatment for postpartum depression.”

“From my very first engagement with Sage Therapeutics several years ago, the commitment of the company’s principals to work with the university to enable the development and commercialization of this important discovery was evident,” said Dushyant Pathak, UC Davis associate vice chancellor for research and executive director of Venture Catalyst. “At the university, we reciprocated through creative and goal-oriented approaches to structuring patent, data and material transfer agreements to support Sage’s development of this much-needed treatment.”

In addition to licensed patent rights, Sage Therapeutics was granted a right of reference to the University of California’s Investigational New Drug (IND) application package related to the use of allopregnanolone, which facilitated Sage’s transition of allopregnanolone into the clinic. The university also made allopregnanolone drug substance available for Sage’s use in early clinical trials.

“Up until the development of brexanolone, there was no specific treatment for postpartum depression. I am extremely pleased that our research has led to a rapidly acting treatment for this all-too-common condition,” said Rogawski.

About postpartum depression

Postpartum depression is a distinct and readily identified major depressive disorder that may have devastating consequences for a woman and for her family, which may include significant functional impairment, depressed mood and/or loss of interest in her newborn, and associated symptoms of depression such as loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, motor challenges, lack of concentration, loss of energy and poor self-esteem. In developed countries, suicide is the leading cause of maternal death following childbirth. Postpartum depression affects approximately one in nine women who have given birth in the U.S. and 400,000 women annually. More than half of these cases may go undiagnosed without proper screening.

Rogawski and UC Davis project scientist Dorota Zolkowska are the inventors of U.S. Patent No. 10,251,894 B2, issued to the Regents of the University of California on April 9, 2019, and claiming methods of treating post-partum depression.


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UC Davis Selects Global Plant Genetics, Ltd. for Strawberry Licensing in Europe, Mediterranean and South America

Strawberries in basket

A new University of California strawberry cultivar, UC9, is harvested in Prunevale, California. The goal of the breeding program is to develop new, commercially useful varieties of strawberry plants that have higher-quality berries, are less vulnerable to pests and diseases and can be grown more efficiently. (UC Davis)

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The University of California has entered into a master agreement with Global Plant Genetics, Ltd., based in Norfolk, England, for the sublicensing of new strawberry varieties in selected countries within Europe, the Mediterranean and South America. The agreement governs the commercialization of new varieties from the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program located at the University of California, Davis.

GPG will work with UC Davis researchers, plant nurseries and fruit producers to test the commercial potential of new strawberry varieties in the specified territories. If the parties agree to move forward with commercialization of a variety in the covered territories, GPG will implement and manage the licensing of the varieties to growers for fruit production, distribution and eventual sale to consumers. This new arrangement will not impact the university’s current licensing program for the California strawberry industry.

“I greatly appreciate the effort everyone has put into creating this partnership. The dedicated and professional team at GPG will provide the university with a strong and well established business for delivering newly developed UC Davis cultivars to several important international markets,” said Professor Steve Knapp, director of the breeding program.

“We are truly excited to be representing the world’s number-one strawberry breeding program,” said Rupert Hargreaves, director of GPG. “The quality of plant breeding, access to modern science, huge gene pool and impressive team of people give us confidence that varieties from this program will be at the forefront of international strawberry production for many years to come.”

GPG was selected by UC Davis because of the company’s unique knowledge of the strawberry industry as well as its expertise in plant intellectual property (IP) management. The terms of any individual licenses undertaken under the agreement will be defined once the commercial potential of individual varieties has been determined. The term of the agreement is for ten years.

“The university has significantly enhanced the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program so as to enable development of the next generation of commercially successful strawberry varieties,” said Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor of Technology Management and Corporate Relations in the UC Davis Office of Research. “Tapping GPG’s network in the berry industry and its experience with licensing high-value plant varieties will help deliver our new varieties to nurseries and fruit producers in important growing regions around the world,” said Pathak.

About UC’s Public Strawberry Breeding Program

UC has been breeding strawberries since the 1930s, and the breeding program has been located at UC Davis since the early 1950s. The goal of the program is to develop new, commercially useful varieties of strawberry plants that have higher quality berries, are less vulnerable to pests and diseases and can be grown more efficiently. During the prior six decades, the program developed more than thirty patented varieties. Approximately one billion patented strawberry plants are planted worldwide each year. Strawberries are a top-earning invention for the university and in fiscal year 2018, UC collected over $7 million in gross licensing revenue. A portion of the revenues received by UC from licensing its strawberry varieties fund the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program to support the research and innovation on which the industry relies.

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