Editor’s note: Atlanta Beat is a regular feature on Mondays.The Research Triangle’s technology clout is apparent in Atlanta’s growing technology community, even if you don’t start out looking for it.

The idea of seeking new, non-profit structures to support biotech startups, for instance, has filtered down to Atlanta from the Triangle.

Tony Shuker, an Atlanta-based serial entrepreneur, currently has two biotech start-ups in development. One, Hygeia, named after the Greek Goddess of health, is a not-for-profit firm that plans to help developing world countries face health care challenges such as AIDS. The decision to form the company as a non-profit came from a Triangle entrepreneur.

“Max Wallace gave me the idea to do this,” says Shuker. “We originally planned to start Hygeia as a for profit, but about nine months ago I had a conversation with Wallace that made me think the idea of doing it as a non-profit was a good one.”

Wallace, president of The Arbor Group, Carrboro, was founder and chief executive officer of Durham-based Cogent Neurosciences and a founder of Trimeris in the Triangle. After Cogent shutdown, Wallace began suggesting that some form of non-profit support might be a way for biotech companies to find the kind of large sums they need to develop new ideas too risky for venture capital backing.

Shuker says the idea is particularly appealing with Hygeia, because its mission is to bring expertise in drug discovery to the developing world. “The issue isn’t a lack of money,” he says, “there’s an awfully lot of money being put into third world health needs. The issue is a lack of expertise.”

Shuker says that Hygeia, founded late last year, has pulled together resources in Atlanta with support from the state and the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, to do basic research and development. “We have a first class group of scientists in the pharmaceutical world involved, ” he says. “Public private collaborations are one of the things Atlanta does well.”

Shuker explains that Hygeia, which is considering options on how to proceed, has created relationships in South Africa. “What we want to do is act as a catalyst for to help the developing world pursue research and development for its own needs.”

He says Hygeia plans to hire a number of scientists in the U.S. and the developing world this year.

Prism: for profit

Shuker’s other startup, Prism, is seeking from $5 million to $10 million in a “quality Series A” round to pursue what he calls “a fundamentally different way of discovering drugs.”

Shuler is cagey with details about the company’s technology, which is not unusual for an early stage biotech firm. “We start with molecules other people would not address,” he says, “naturally occurring molecules with a unique biological function. Prism can turn them into things that look like medicines.”

Shuker says he doesn’t have a good sound bite yet to talk about the technology, which he says reverses the old saying about a technique that works in theory but not in the laboratory.

“What we do works beautifully in practice and we’re trying to make it work in theory,” he says.

Founded early this year, Prism has three employees. Shuker says it already has a cancer-fighting compound close to clinical trials. “Depending on financing, we could start in three to six months,” he says.

He says Prism’s compounds may be effective against four cancers, leukemia, skin cancer, breast cancer, and ultimately lung cancer. The company also started a diabetes/obesity program.

Shuker says Rebecca Kaufman and other attorneys at the Atlanta law firm of Kino & Spalding have been instrumental in helping him establish both his startups. “Without them nothing would be happening with Hygeia,” he says. “They’re willing to take risks.”

Emory RTP link

Todd Sherer, who joined Atlanta’s Emory University as director of its technology transfer office last October, says it is increasing its staff from nine to 14 before the year is over, partly due to its own Research Triangle connection.

“We want to move to the next level of technology transfer, to more of a commercialization program,” says Sherer. “It’s tough to make a living off of technology. It’s much easier to make it from royalties on product sales.”

In fact, he says, Emory’s royalties from the AIDS drug developed at Triangle Pharmaceuticals, now part of Gilead, were north of $22 million in 2003. “That provides enough money flowing back to the institution to form groups within the university that are beginning to have an impact.”

He says it’s also funding the tech transfer staff expansion. The emphasis at Emory will be on creating value in a company and to focus on “product pipelines,” the way big pharmaceutical companies do. “We know the way they do that this is a ‘big hit’ market.”

“We like to talk about what’s going on in the region,” says Sherer. “What goes on in the Research Triangle is critical to what we’re doing in Atlanta.”

So much so, Sherer says, that, “We’re in the process of creating a new company with venture capital and it will probably land in the Triangle.”

Emory tech transfer office:www.ott.emory.edu/

Kino & Spaulding LLP: www.kslaw.com