When Roche, an innovator in the life sciences market and DNA sequencing, acquired University of Wisconsin startup NimbleGen in 2007 for more than $272 million, it was a tech startup’s dream come true.
In 2014, Roche-NimbleGen licensed the novel Switchgrass Exome Capture Chip technology developed by Dr. C. Robin Buell and her team at Michigan State University’s Department of Plant Biology, in collaboration with Dr. Kaeppler at U Wisconsin Madison. Buell’s lab researches the genome biology of plants, working on a number of crop species for food, feed, fodder and biofuels.
This licensed technology is based on research funded by the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC). GLBRC researchers were seeking a way to identify genes in switchgrass, a versatile biofuel crop.
The switchgrass gene chip developed in collaboration with NimbleGen helps scientists pinpoint specific DNA sequences. This information can be used to create switchgrass hybrids that have improved traits, such as drought tolerance or increasing the release of sugars from the stems to enhance biofuel production.
The Roche-NimbleGen story is a win for both companies. Startups partnered with research programs such as Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin develop in-demand, vital technologies, and commercial companies such as Roche benefit from the body of research that comes out of strong university environments when they acquire the startups.
Companies that see the value in acquiring the valuable intellectual property that comes with the startups can invest in the creation of technologies without having to employ their own researchers.