“Whereas universities didn’t have commercial arms 20 years ago, they all have them now and are quite successful,” says Pete Hodgson, New Zealand’s Minister for Economic Development, Tertiary Education, and Research, Science, and Technology.
The University of Auckland technology transfer and out-licensing is facilitated by Auckland UniServices, which generates contract R&D funding for the university. These offerings are common to the other main Universities: Otago, Wellington, and Waikato. In addition, UniServices has found creative ways to finance research at the preseed stage. Through access to the Trans-Tasman Commercialization fund it hopes to double the number of spin-out companies it creates each year.
WaikatoLink ranked in the top 3% of 157 university commercialization offices in the 2004 Association of University Technology Managers study. It ranked fourth for license income received per research dollar expended, out-performing Harvard University and MIT, it reports.
“Waikato University may be relatively small in size but we make startlingly efficient use of our research dollar,” Mark Stuart, CEO at Waikato, explains. “This is not a one-off. We have performed consistently at that level for a number of years.”
ZyGEM, a molecular diagnostic company with DNA extraction and detection technologies, is one of WaikatoLink’s successes. The latest fledgling spin-out is the next-generation antibody company Obodies.
Companies that originated at Otago include Pacific Edge Biotechnology, which is developing tools for cancer detection using multiple biomarkers, and Antipodean Pharmaceuticals with mitochondria-targeted antioxidants for treatment of hepatic inflammatory disorders currently in Phase II trials.
New Zealand’s small size and location in the South Pacific has forced the country to be resourceful and innovative—always looking for an alternative way of doing things. Even with its trademark can-do attitude, the need to be globally focused in order to fully exploit the commercialization potential of products is ever present. This is highlighted by collaborations with leading research institutes, companies, and a number of trade agreements.
The most recent FTA, signed with China in April, is the fifth for New Zealand. Its first, with Australia in 1983, was described by the WTO as “the world’s most comprehensive, effective, and mutually compatible free trade agreement.” Hodgson adds, “New Zealand and Australia compete fiercely in many ways, and the most obvious one is sport, but the truth is that the two economies are more interlinked than any other two economies in the world.” Regulatory harmonization and the establishment of the Trans-Tasman fund illustrate this.