Innovation Law Center Students Help Allied Microbiota Commercialize a Clean Tech Breakthrough
One of the many impressive tasks that Innovation Law Center (ILC) students perform when writing proprietary reports for clients of the New York State Science and Technology Law Center (NYSSTLC) is getting up to speed with novel and often complex technologies. Becoming quickly competent with groundbreaking biotechnology was certainly necessary for the report presented to Allied Microbiota, a New York City-based company that is developing a microbial product to remediate difficult-to-treat organic pollutants.
It helped to have a couple of law students with biology backgrounds working on it.
“My undergraduate degree is in biology,” explains Senior Research Associate Gabrielle Sherwood L’19. “This project was a nice refresher on what I learned in my biology classes.” However, Sherwood points out another member of her team—rising 3L Christina Brule—holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry. “Her knowledge was very useful.”
Sherwood and Brule, along with Trevor McDaniel L’19 and rising 3L Kristian Stefanides, presented their report to Allied Microbiota in March 2019. Principals Frana James and Dr. Ray Sambrotto describe the students’ work—which analyzes the company’s intellectual property, its potential market, and the regulatory landscape for bioremediation—as “really insightful.”
James discovered the law center through her connection to FuzeHub, a New York State manufacturing extension program. Through FuzeHub, James met with NYSSTLC Associate Director Molly Zimmermann and ILC Adjunct Professor Dom Danna ’71. Allied Microbiota is one of 50 start-up tech companies our law students assisted in 2018-2019 on behalf of NYSSTLC, which is housed in ILC.
A Columbia University-trained engineer, James founded Allied Microbiota three years ago with Sambrotto, a Research Professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The pair had become interested in the commercial potential of biological soil remediation products that were being developed in the lab.
“Laboratory technologies can be difficult to scale up and we certainly ran into our share of challenges,” says James. Fueled by assistance from the National Science Foundation, PowerBridgeNY, and others, Allied Microbiota is now in the largescale testing phase for its PacBac product.
PacBac uses thermophilic bacteria to naturally destroy soil contaminants that are difficult and expensive to clean up using current remediation technology. These recalcitrant contaminants include a rogues’ gallery of dangerous chemicals—dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, toluene, and xylene—that can be deposited in soil by industrial processes, creating dangerously polluted brownfield sites.
“These are pretty toxic soil contaminants that resist decomposition,” observes Sambrotto. “Current treatment methods include dredging the soil and disposing of it in a landfill or thermal destruction. These methods are expensive, use a lot of energy, and are not sustainable. PacBac is both an effective and cost-effective biological solution that uses a bacterium and enzymes.”
Supervised by Professor Danna, the students made observations and recommendations in three areas that will help Allied Microbiota bring PacBac to market. “We created a patent landscape and researched the chances of Allied Microbiota obtaining a patent. We also completed a freedom-to-operate analysis, to see what patents are out there and to determine if Allied Microbiota may infringe any of them,” explains Sherwood. “The regulatory section was a challenge because it’s a heavily regulated sector. We identified permits required, which are often concerned with moving contaminated soils.”
Sherwood notes that the market analysis section of the report proved very fruitful. “The bioremediation market is potentially huge, with companies under order to clean up sites and consumers demanding more environmentally friendly methods of removing contamination.”
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, there are more than 450,000 brownfield sites in the US and more than 1,300 “Superfund” priority list sites known to be releasing extremely hazardous substances.
All told, James says the remediation market potentially could be worth $65B by 2025.
Allied Microbiota is currently testing PacBac in collaboration with Clean Earth, a specialty waste management company. Smallscale field tests have been positive, and now the companies are expanding testing with the goal of eventually decontaminating commercial-grade sites. “We all know the product works well, and we know how to implement it,” James says. “Now we need to scale it up and offer it as at a commercially viable price.”
From "Smart" Toilet Seats to the Toothbrush of Tomorrow
NYSSTLC Projects 2018-2019
Every semester, law and graduate students assist the New York State Science and Technology Law Center (NYSSTLC) by writing proprietary reports on intellectual property, regulations, and markets for clients attempting to bring emerging technologies to market.
Gaining critical practical experience with these real-world projects, the students work under supervision in the Innovation Law Center (formerly the TechnologyCommercialization Law Program) which has housed NYSSTLC since 2004.
Representing a broad range of novel technologies—from a “smart” toilet seat to chemical-eating microbes to wearable solar cells to the toothbrush of tomorrow—the following inventions and new products were among the 50 projects that 16 law students engaged in 2018-2019.
Allied Microbiota: A microbial remediation system to remove recalcitrant chemicals from brownfield sites.
Cell Wrangler: A process to increase the efficacy of optical biopsies.
Heart Health Intelligence: Home monitoring technology—embedded in a toilet seat—for cardiac health.
Heat Inverse: Photonic thin-film materials that cool down with zero-energy input when outdoors.
In-Spire: A bracelet that can act as a wearable asthma inhaler.
Intuitt: Artificial intelligence for medical malpractice defense.
MicroCam: Sensors for building modulation based on heat, sound, and light.
Panacea Labs: A brushless teeth cleaning system.
Pvilion solar: Solar cells that are integrated into fabrics.
SeaLegs: A waterproof ankle-foot orthosis to correct gait and prevent bones from breaking.
SynchroPET: Miniaturized Positron Emission Tomography (PET) technology that can assist with small animal medicine and research. Licensed from Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Thermapparel: Cooling vests for persons with disabilities.
TRACE: A high-security, non-military decision-making app.
Volta Reserve Power: Energy storage and backup systems for the green building and renewable and reliable energy markets.