Professor Barany elected Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors

Distinguished McKnight University Professor George Barany has been elected a 2020 Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors® (NAI). He is being honored for “. . . demonstrating a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made tangible impacts on the quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society."

Professor Barany is a highly creative and prolific scholar who is internationally recognized for his long-standing leadership and pioneering innovations in the field of peptide synthesis methodology and for his role in the invention of revolutionary universal Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) arrays for detection of genetic diseases. He has worked continuously to shepherd many of the discoveries emanating from his academic research programs to successful, commercially viable products. He holds 38 issued U.S. patents.

"This work has had a tremendous impact on our Department and University that goes well beyond the royalties and fees," said Department Head David Blank. "The example set by Professor Barany’s remarkable approach to science and resulting culture of discovery and innovation has become integrated into every aspect of our ongoing multi-faceted mission of teaching, research, and service."

When Professor Barany began his independent research career at the University of Minnesota in 1980, peptide chemistry was an art practiced by only a few experienced scientists and marked by dangerous experimental procedures of limited generality. Barany’s vision, based on the concept of orthogonality and grounded with innovative discoveries in organic and polymer chemistry, overhauled the prior state-of-the-art and provided scientists with widely used toolkits that have enabled the preparation of clinically important hormones and proteins ranging from oxytocin to peptide antimicrobials to Fuzeon (an anti-HIV peptide).

More specifically, Professor Barany led a team of talented graduate students and post-doctoral researchers, including Fernando Albericio, Jordi Alsina, Ioana Annis, Jane Chang, Lin Chen, Knud Jensen, Maria Kempe, Nuria Solé, Michael Songster, Josef Vágner, and Samuel Zalipsky, in the invention and commercialization of useful peptide synthesis resin supports (PEG-PS, CLEAR), anchoring linkages (PAL, HAL, XAL, BAL), and reagents (Clear-OX, an elegant “chaperone” for the creation of disulfide bridges). These advances have facilitated basic research worldwide by making accessible a considerably expanded range of molecular targets of substantial structural complexity and lability–many of which have significant clinical potential–and dovetailing their production with the necessities for efficient, compatible biological evaluation (sometimes in combinatorial formats for increased throughput).

Another significant contribution spearheaded by Professor Barany and carried out in collaboration with Professor Karin Musier-Forsyth and Professor Robert Hammer, a University of Minnesota alumnus who earned his doctorate under the tutelage of Barany and who taught and conducted research at Louisiana State University, took advantage of some basic organosulfur chemistry discoveries from his laboratory and invented a family of sulfurization reagents, most notably 3-ethoxy-1,2,4-dithiazoline-5-one (EDITH). Their 1998 patent taught the use of EDITH for the rapid and efficient synthesis of DNA and Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) with phosphorothioate backbones. The products obtained are essential to the promising antisense therapeutics field (e.g., Spinraza, a Food & Drug Administration-approved treatment for muscular dystrophy).

In the late 1990s, several laboratories and commercial entities were attempting to distinguish mutations using direct hybridization arrays, but those efforts were plagued by false-negatives and false-positives. Barany parlayed his experience in functionalizing solid supports to collaborate with fellow chemist Hammer and molecular biologist Professor Francis Barany (George's brother) at Weill-Cornell Medical College on the invention of universal arrays that addressed the drawbacks of earlier approaches. This team conceived and built the most sensitive arrays yet to distinguish both inherited and low-level cancer mutations. Their revolutionary approach orthogonally separated the functionalities of target amplification from mutation identification and from amplicon hybridization and detection. Later work expanded the universal array platform to monitor expression and copy-number, as well as to incorporate antibodies into arrays.  The technology was broadly used for SNP detection and haplotype mapping, was the basis of comprehensive tumor profiling by the far larger National Institutes of Health Cancer Genome Anatomy Project (TCGA), and provided intellectual and experimental underpinnings to widely touted approaches worldwide to personalized cancer treatment that rely on mutational signatures. Building on the intellectual property of the University team, it is now possible to sequence entire genomes in days rather than years, with concomitant advantages for the timely and precise diagnosis of disease.

To date, Professor Barany’s inventions have netted more than $2 million in royalties and licensing fees to the University of Minnesota, with about a third from peptide reagents and materials, and the remainder from the DNA array work. Indirectly, his work has impacted on any number of metabolically stable blockbuster pharmaceuticals, and generated an estimated $3 billion in revenue for over a dozen commercial entities that are focused on diagnostics, genetic analysis, and allied areas.

Professor Barany's research is described in more than 375 scientific publications and seminal review articles on various aspects of the peptide field. In addition, he is a tremendous teacher and mentor. He has been honored with the Vincent du Vigneaud Award for outstanding achievements in peptide research from the American Peptide Society (1994), the Ralph F. Hirschmann Award in Peptide Chemistry from the American Chemical Society (2006), and the Murray Goodman Scientific Excellence & Mentorship Award from the American Peptide Society (2015). While at Minnesota, Professor Barany has mentored approximately 60 graduate and post-doctoral students, and more than 100 undergraduates. Many of his protégés have gone on to prominence as independent scientists in academia, industry, biotechnology, and government, and several of them have received prestigious awards of their own.

Barany was admitted to the graduate program at The Rockefeller University in 1971 after graduating from Stuyvesant High School in New York. He earned his doctorate in biochemistry in 1977, and then was a post-doctoral fellow at The Rockefeller University.

The National Academy of Inventors® is a member organization comprising U.S. and international universities, and governmental and non-profit research institutes, with over 4,000 individual inventor members and Fellows spanning more than 250 institutions worldwide. It works to enhance the visibility of academic technology and innovation, encourage the disclosure of intellectual property, educate and mentor innovative students, and translate the inventions of its members to benefit society.