Biologist John Herr Named U.Va. Inventor Of The Year
23, 1999 -- John C. Herr, a professor of cell biology
and director of a center for contraceptive vaccines at the University
of Virginia, has been named the Christopher J. Henderson Inventor
of the Year by the University of Virginia Patent Foundation.
has studied human sperm and their anatomical and molecular characteristics
for the past 20 years and over the past decade has filed and received
a number of patents related to his research, which has applications
in contraception and fertility diagnosis.
U.Va. Patent Foundation award recognizes an invention that has proven
to be of notable value to society. The criteria for selection include
commercial success and the invention's value in treating disease,
protecting the environment, as a tool for research, in education
and training, in the development of a field of science or technology,
or helping the disadvantaged, the disabled and the elderly.
Herr is the model for the academic scientist of the future," said
Robert S. MacWright, executive director of the U.Va. Patent Foundation.
"He is able to seamlessly combine an interest in corporate product
development and intellectual property with traditional academic
interests in basic science and research. He is successfully bridging
the gap that has historically existed between academia and industry,
maintaining credibility in both spheres."
laboratory is developing two product lines based on his research
in the molecular anatomy of sperm. The first products are kits that
enable men to conduct sperm counts at home. The kits would be used
by men who recently have had vasectomies and want to ensure that
the sperm has been eliminated from their semen, and by men who are
trying with their partners to conceive and want to learn whether
their sperm counts are adequate.
of the home kit, "SpermCheck I," has been developed by ContraVac
Inc., an Albemarle Country biotechnology company founded by Herr
several years ago. Herr is currently seeking venture capital to
conduct human clinical trials of the product later this year.
second line of products would revolve around a contraceptive vaccine
for women. The contraceptive vaccine works by stimulating a woman's
immune system, causing it to develop antibodies to molecules that
appear on the surface membrane of sperm. The antibodies bind with
the sperm and destroy its ability to fertilize the egg. Herr is
currently working with a major European pharmaceutical company to
further the research in this area and eventually to develop products.
research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health,
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Virginia Center for Innovative
Technology, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the U.S. Agency
for International Development. Colleagues also have made important
contributions. "The work that my lab has conducted over the past
20 years has been the joint effort of many fellows, graduate students
and collaborating colleagues whose creative input has been vital
to our success," Herr said.
transfer from universities to U.S. industries represents an important
mechanism by which university scholarship can directly affect the
physical and economic well-being of U.S. citizens," said Gene D.
Block, vice president for research and public service. "The U.Va.
Patent Foundation is playing a critical role by helping to commercialize
powerful technology emerging from the University. Increasingly,
the effects of technology transfer can be felt locally through the
licensing of our patentable research within the greater Charlottesville
area. This important activity is assisting in the healthy growth
of the region's high technology sector."
winners of the U.Va. Inventor of the Year Award are:
1997 -- Richard Guerrant and Timothy Macdonald: "Rehydration and
1996 -- Jessica Brand, Patrice Guyenet, Richard Pearson and Janine
Jagger: "Safety Syringe"
1995 -- Donald Hunt, Jeffrey Shabanowitz and George Stafford: "Mass
1994 -- Gerald Mandell and Gail Sullivan: "Inhibition of Inflammatory
1993 -- Joseph Larner: "Insulin Mediators"
1992 -- Robert Berne, Luiz Belardinelli and Rafael Rubio: "Adenocard"
J. Henderson, president and chief financial officer of Robbins &
Henderson, a New York firm specializing in financial and related
services for institutions, has been active in promoting partnerships
between universities and industry. The Inventor of the Year Award
was named after him because of his commitment to and interest in
University of Virginia. Henderson will personally present the award
to the winner.
U.Va. Patent Foundation is a not-for-profit Virginia corporation
affiliated with the University of Virginia that promotes the transfer
of technology developed at the University to business and industry.
Charlotte Crystal, (804) 924-6858.