David Hobson
David Hobson

By age 17, he was buying and selling stocks. That’s also when he began buying and fixing up cars for resale, starting with a 1972 Gremlin — without a door — that he bought for $50.

Decades later, David Hobson still finds himself brokering deals. But now it’s U of G research that he’s pitching to industry partners as a manager of technology transfer at the University’s Catalyst Centre.

It’s his job to link scientific discoveries on campus with businesses looking for novel technologies to develop into new products. Referring to the centre, he says, “We sell discoveries and the opportunity to change the world with novel technologies. We look for diamonds in the rough, and then we try to get industry to polish them.”

One recent example is also one of the biggest deals ever done at Guelph

This summer, Stellar Biotechnologies in California announced that it had acquired a licence from U of G to develop therapies against Clostridium difficile infection. That’s based on discoveries of structures in bacterial cell walls by Guelph chemistry professor Mario Monteiro

In preclinical work, Monteiro and company scientists showed that conjugate vaccines can protect against C. diff infection. C. diff can cause serious disease and even death in people with weakened immune systems; the bug is a major and growing threat to hospitalized patients.

Under its agreement with Guelph, Stellar paid an upfront licensing fee of more than $300,000 in shares; their value has doubled since the deal went public in late August.

“We expect that this vaccine is going to be a win-win for the University and Stellar,” says Hobson. “This sort of deal should raise several million dollars in milestone payments as Stellar moves the vaccine through the regulatory approval process.”

That process takes five to eight years on average. After a licensed vaccine reaches consumers, U of G would then earn royalties from sales.

He helps campus researchers through various hoops, including invention disclosure, patenting and licensing, and due diligence. In gauging prospects, Hobson looks not just at the innovation but also at the researcher.

The scientist’s job doesn’t end with signing the patent papers. Taking research to market involves a partnership between researcher and company. “It’s a huge commitment. They have to be involved in commercialization. The development process by industry needs their input.”

The Catalyst Centre – then called the Business Development Office – approached Monteiro around 2004 about his work with a C. diff vaccine. Hobson got involved shortly after that.

“This project has been championed by David for a long time,” says the chemistry professor. “If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be at this stage.”

Hobson works most closely with life science inventions developed by the Ontario Veterinary College, the College of Biological Science and the Ontario Agricultural College.

He has worked with pathobiology professor John Prescott on vaccines for chickens, cattle and horses. Before the C. diff vaccine, the most lucrative technology involving the Catalyst Centre was a vaccine for shipping fever in cattle, also developed in the Department of Pathobiology.

Hobson has industry experience – and a varied resumé.

Originally from Guelph, he studied mechanical engineering at the University of Waterloo in the 1980s.

He worked in manufacturing, marketing and management at Johnson and Johnson. He also consulted in pharmaceutical, construction and agricultural engineering.

By then Hobson had returned to school at Guelph, first for a DVM, then a D.V.Sc. in comparative pathology. He spent three years in small-animal practice, and worked with federal governments in Canada and the United Kingdom on outbreaks of avian flu and foot-and-mouth disease.

He joined the Catalyst Centre five years ago. The key to success? “Networking, networking, networking,” he says. “You have to talk to people. You can’t have your nose in a book.”

The job also requires intuitive smarts for gauging what might fly with industry as well as tolerance for taking risks.

Rather like being a stockbroker, he says. He had considered that career and even spent a semester trading stocks during his undergrad. Even earlier, Hobson had already figured out how to buy and sell on the market.

He was 15 and still attending Guelph CVI when he started trading silver bullion certificates. By 17, he says, “I was reading stock quotes and watching the development of silver and gold mines in northern Ontario.” He got advice from a broker neighbour and applied his interest in numbers. “It’s mainly a game. It’s game theory.”

When he wasn’t following the markets, Hobson was working on a car – or cars. “In high school and university, I was in the garage all the time, sometimes till three in the morning.

Since that doorless Gremlin, he’s bought and sold some 50 cars, including a quarter-mile dragster. Right now he drives a 1988 BMW, the one with the “For Sale” sign in the back window.

Hobson’s other passion as a student was varsity rugby. He played on the U of G team that won the 1998 Ontario championships and was named as a provincial all-star in 1999.

Having spent 40 years on skis, he recently he took up snowboarding and now spends weekends on the “bunny hill” with his three children. One day he hopes to try heli-skiing in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia. “I get bored easily, so I’m always looking for new challenges.”