By Leila Uginčius
VCU University Relations
Frank Gupton, Ph.D., the Floyd D. Gottwald Jr. Chair and chair of the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering, was honored with the 2017 Billy R. Martin Award for Innovation at the annual VCU Innovates reception Nov. 30.
“We seek to obtain distinction for research that advances knowledge and equally importantly enhances the quality of life,” said Frank Macrina, Ph.D., vice president for research, who presented the award. “Today we honor a faculty member whose research epitomizes this theme.”
After a 30-year career in industry, in which he focused on the development and commercialization of chemical processes for pharmaceutical applications, Gupton joined the faculty of VCU Engineering in 2007, where his work focuses on continuous processing technology.
“Under the aegis of the Medicines for All initiative, Frank has carried out a number of projects,” Macrina said. “The flagship project is one involving the drug called nevirapine. It is a first-line drug for treating HIV-AIDS. It prevents transmissions from mothers to fetuses, as well as being used as a drug in combination therapy with other retroviral drugs to treat AIDS.”
The innovator award is named for Martin, the late chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. A world-renowned neuropharmacologist and educator, Martin conducted groundbreaking translational research in substance abuse. He died in 2008.
“This award has special meaning to me because before I came to VCU, Billy Martin was a close friend of mine,” said Gupton, who credits his success at VCU to “the collaboration I was able to establish in the 10 years I’ve been here.”
“I think what it shows most of all is how engineering can help to connect all of these different disciplines,” Gupton said.
Many new records were achieved at VCU Innovation Gateway this year, including 165 patent applications, 22 new patents issued and 82 technology licenses issued.
“This past year, VCU Innovation Gateway generated $6.8 million in … revenue for the university and its inventors,” said Ivelina Metcheva, Ph.D., executive director of VCU Innovation Gateway, which hosts the annual event. “This is three times more than the previous year.”
VCU Innovation Gateway encourages commercialization of university inventions and supports research through collaborative agreements. The office is responsible for commercializing VCU research and enhancing the overall culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at the university.
“That’s what we have to do as research universities — start to think more about that next step,” VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., said. “So innovation is wonderful, ideas are wonderful, but how do we take those ideas and put them in an environment in which they will benefit a maximum number of people in the world, not just here in our community?
“I also want to take a moment to recognize my partner who felt just as I did when I came,” Rao said of Macrina, who is stepping down as vice president to be a full-time faculty member. “As a research university, there were special components to our mission; it really obligates us, in many ways, to do the maximum. We can’t count on any other entity in society … to really think about all those problems, all those issues that human beings face. We give a lot of thought to that. We really touch people in society.”