Engelhardt named 2019 Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors

Date: Thursday, December 5, 2019

John Engelhardt portraitThe National Academy of Inventors (NAI) has named University of Iowa cystic fibrosis and gene therapy researcher John Engelhardt, PhD, a 2019 Fellow.

Engelhardt, who is professor and head of anatomy and cell biology in the UI Carver College of Medicine and director of the UI Center for Gene Therapy, is recognized for his work in developing gene therapies to treat cystic fibrosis (CF). He will receive the award during an induction ceremony at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, on April 10, 2020.

Engelhardt’s research primarily focuses on the molecular basis of CF, a progressive, inherited disease that causes persistent lung infections and other complications. CF is caused by well-studied mutations in a single gene, and Engelhardt has worked to develop gene therapy and gene editing methods to help treat the condition.

He also develops viral vector systems and animal models to test these methods and ultimately improve gene delivery. The animal models his laboratory has created are used by over 80 CF researchers, and he recently renewed a Research and Resource Center, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to continue this service to the research community and biotechnology companies that are developing therapies for CF and other lung diseases.

Engelhardt additionally studies airway stem cell niches, or the regulatory mechanisms that control stem cell growth and repair in the lungs, and has developed stem cell therapies for CF.

He currently holds 12 issued US patents, 41 issued foreign patents, and has 23 active patent applications. His patents and applications have been licensed to six companies, including two start-ups and a Fortune 100 company. Engelhardt provides critical tools and assistance to other researchers and companies in the field of CF research, and he is sponsored by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Engelhardt co-founded the gene therapy company Talee Bio, which was sold and is now Spirovant Sciences. The Philadelphia-based company was recently a part of a $3 billion deal to enhance the development of gene therapies for CF and other genetic diseases. Engelhardt remains on the scientific advisory board for Spirovant Sciences and serves as a key advisor as new therapies are created and tested.

NAI President Paul Sanberg says Engelhardt was selected for induction as he “has demonstrated a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and welfare of society.”

The University of Iowa Research Foundation (UIRF) nominated Engelhardt for this award to recognize his impact on creating and broadly commercializing gene therapies and his mentoring of other entrepreneurs on campus.

“John has an extensive portfolio of intellectual property for advancing the commercialization of gene therapies,” said Marie Kerbeshian, executive director of UIRF and an assistant vice president in the Office of the Vice President for Research. “Not only is he a successful entrepreneur, as a UI researcher he is a key supporter of other researchers and other companies as they seek cures for cystic fibrosis.”

He is one of 168 distinguished academic inventors across 136 research universities and institutes worldwide to join the academy this year. To date, NAI Fellows hold more than 41,500 issued U.S. patents, and the 2019 class includes six recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Technology & Innovation and U.S. National Medal of Science, four Nobel Laureates, among other honors.

“We are very proud to see Dr. Engelhardt’s innovative and groundbreaking work recognized nationally,” said Brooks Jackson, MD, MBA, UI vice president for medical affairs and the Tyrone D. Artz Dean of the UI Carver College of Medicine. “He is a pioneer in his field and has set a prime example of how dedication and collaboration can lead to major advances in finding treatments for debilitating diseases.”

Engelhardt is the second UI faculty member to join the academy, after UI neurosurgeon Matthew Howard, MD, was named a 2018 fellow for his work in developing brain and spinal cord neuromodulation devices.  

Engelhardt joined the UI faculty in 1997 and is the Roy J. Carver Chair in Molecular Medicine and director of the Center for Gene Therapy of Cystic Fibrosis, which has received funding from the NIH continuously over the past 20 years. He earned a doctoral degree in human genetics from Johns Hopkins University and was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Michigan. He has published 263 articles and book chapters, and has received over $74 million dollars in NIH grant support for his research.