Dehua Pei, Yizhou Dong and Laura McLaughlin named 2017 Innovators of the Year

As Ohio State continues to expand its role in the commercialization of research, it is important to create an environment that facilitates and rewards research creativity and entrepreneurship. To support and stimulate entrepreneurial activity among Ohio State researchers, three university-wide awards were presented on March 6, 2018, to Ohio State’s most successful entrepreneurs.

Innovator of the Year: Dehua Pei

Dehua Pei


The 2017 Innovator of the Year is Dehua Pei, Charles H. Kimberly Professor in Chemistry. Pei’s research focuses on the design, development and cellular delivery of molecules that can inhibit interactions between proteins with therapeutic value.

Pei has been working at the interface of chemistry and biology throughout his career, distinguishing himself for contributions to the field of chemical biology where the powerful tools of chemistry are applied to problems of biological significance.

Approximately 80% of all drug targets are out of the reach of current drug development approaches and are therefore termed “undruggable” by the drug discovery community. Pei and his research team have developed two breakthrough technologies which are poised to transform the drug discovery process and make most of these undruggable targets druggable. Pei’s group discovered a family of small cyclic peptides as exceptionally potent in cell-penetrating, capable of delivering all major drug modalities – from small molecules to large nucleic acids – into the cell with unprecedented efficiencies.

Pei’s work has resulted in the filing of 11 patent applications since 2013. He is working with the Technology Commercialization Office on six additional patent applications.

Pei founded CycloPorters LLC in 2015, a venture capital-backed biotechnology company, and in a joint venture with MidSpace Pharmaceuticals, has focused on the development and delivery of novel therapeutics into cells.


Early Career Innovator of the Year: Yizhou Dong

Yizhou Dong


The 2017 Early Career Innovator of the Year is Yizhou Dong, assistant professor of pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry. Dong’s research integrates pharmaceutics, pharmaceutical chemistry, biomedical engineering, materials formulation and animal studies to design and validate novel drug delivery systems for the treatment of genetic disorders, infectious diseases and cancers.

His technologies have built on recent developments in gene editing utilizing CRISPR technology by maximizing genome editing efficiency and effectively delivering CRISPR in vivo.

Dong’s research group has made significant contributions to novel nanoparticle non-viral mRNA delivery systems that preferentially target the liver, making gene therapy a reality for patients with debilitating clotting deficiencies originating in the liver such as hemophilia. The first technologies from these efforts are set to enter clinical evaluation in 2018.

He has filed over 20 invention disclosures and has 10 provisional patents pending. In 2017, he registered a start-up company to translate nanotechnology toward clinical use. He has been pursuing licensing with several pharmaceutical companies for further development. His work translates scientific results and technological inventions into more effective treatments to improve health and well-being.

Dong was also recognized by Columbus Business First in the 2017 class of “40 under 40.”


Next Generation Innovator of the Year: Laura McLaughlin

Laura McLaughlin


The 2017 Next Generation Innovator of the Year is Laura McLaughlin, a fourth-year nursing student with a research specialization distinction and a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation.

McLaughlin’s clinical experiences and subsequent assessment work showed that traditional methods of health care delivery in a clinical setting or as a part of a mother’s group in high-risk neighborhoods were inadequate.

Recognizing that most at-risk women relied heavily on their cellphones for information, McLaughlin developed a mobile app to support and inform new and expectant parents. BabyTalk educates users via games and simulated experiences on topics such as women’s health, pregnancy and a child’s first year. Points can be redeemed for needed items or connection to community resources.

McLaughlin received coaching and mentorship through the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Best of Student Startups pitch and accelerator competition. She received funding from the Innovation Studio in the College of Nursing and she has established an LLC to develop her app.

BabyTalk addresses the urgent socioeconomic issue of infant mortality by bringing together evidence-based health care information with an innovative and engaging delivery method for broader dissemination to a population desperately in need of this information.


The Innovator of the Year and Early Career Innovator of the Year awards recognize Ohio State researchers who are working actively to promote commercialization of university intellectual property, through invention disclosures filed, patents applied for and/or received, technologies licensed or spin-off companies formed. These activities support economic development in the Central Ohio region, and serve to attract companies that create a base of operations within the state. The creation of separate categories for more established researchers and for early career researchers allows cultivation of an entrepreneurial spirit among all of our investigators.

The former Student Innovator of the Year award is now the Next Generation Innovator of the Year award to reflect the inclusion of postdocs along with undergraduate and graduate students. The award is intended to recognize innovation and entrepreneurship that has contributed to the development or commercialization of a new technology. It may also recognize a trainee-initiated start-up company whose success is a result of entrepreneurial talent, creativity and energy.