Celebrating innovation and impact

Now in its tenth year of operation, the Penn Center for Innovation marked innovation achievements from fiscal year 2023 with highlights and awards.

Sean McCooe, Holger Kissel, Shu Yang, Firooz Alfatouni, Steve Kelly, and Sean Marett pose for photograph at an award ceremony.
During its recent eighth annual Celebration of Innovation, the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) reported on a successful fiscal year 2023. From left: Sean McCooe, Holger Kissel, Shu Yang, Firooz Alfatouni, Steve Kelly, and Sean Marett. (Image: Courtesy of Felice Macera)

In his opening remarks at the recently held Penn Center for Innovation’s (PCI) annual Celebration of Innovation, John Swartley, PCI’s managing director and associate vice provost for research, provided highlights from the past 2023 fiscal year. He noted that more than 100 faculty inventors were named on more than 105 issued patents and highlighted the fact that PCI and Penn affiliated startups raised over a billion dollars in capital last year, “an astounding achievement in a very difficult funding environment,” said Swartley.

He further announced that PCI executed almost 700 commercial agreements, which included sponsored research agreements that resulted in more than $135,000,000 in research funding for the University, and that “for the second year in a row, Penn posted a gross licensing income figure over a billion dollars. That is unprecedented and has resulted in Penn being acknowledged as the number one academic institution in the world in terms of gross licensing income.”

Pointing to the impact of Penn’s groundbreaking research, event keynote speaker and Nemirovsky Family Dean of Penn Engineering Vijay Kumar remarked, “Too often, as academics, although we excel at basic research, we forget that our mission is to develop products that have an impact on society. And the 100 or so patents, which is close to a record number, is a true reflection of our university’s impact on society.”

Dean Kumar recognized Firooz Aflatouni, associate professor in the Department of Electrical & Systems Engineering at Penn Engineering, as the recipient of PCI’s Emerging Inventor of the Year award and Shu Yang, the Joseph Bordogna Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, as the recipient of PCI’s Inventor of the Year award.

Infographic highlighting the Penn Center for Innovation's 2023 metrics.
Image: Courtesy of Penn Center for Innovation

PCI’s Deal of the Year was awarded to BioNTech, a global immunotherapy company actively partnering with Penn researchers to advance immunotherapy and vaccine technologies. Presenting the award, Jim Bowen, executive director of corporate alliances at PCI, described how Penn’s long-standing research and development alliance with BioNTech was further broadened this year to explore new innovations in mRNA technology that will lead to better medications and patient outcomes.

The PCI Startup of the Year honor was awarded to Carisma Therapeutics, a company co-founded by Penn Medicine’s Saar Gill, associate professor of medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine, and his former graduate student Michael Klichinsky.

“The idea of using macrophages, the scavenger cells of the immune system, to target tumors presented a new way to treat cancer,” said Mark Engleka, PCI’s senior associate director of corporate alliances, who presented the award. He noted that this novel innovation, using this facet of the body’s immune response to fight cancers much like in CAR T therapy, has the potential to dramatically improve treatment for patients with cancer.

The Paul D. Sehnert Memorial Partner of the Year Award was given to McCooe & Associates, an international talent search firm that has supported the identification and recruitment of numerous skilled and experienced business development professionals to PCI over many years.