Changing Role of Academia
The wobbly economy of recent years has shaken governments. Universities, many of which draw millions in funds from those same governments, have to pursue deeper and richer partnerships with industry than previously possible through traditional licensing deals. In the 2010 fiscal year, according to the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), institutions responding to the group’s survey recorded a combined $2.4 billion in tech transfer licensing income. That’s up 3% from 2009 yet still almost 30% below the $3.4 billion racked up in 2008.
Universities, like big biopharma, are also looking to translational centers to spread their R&D costs. During FY 2010, AUTM institutions spent $59 billion on R&D, up 9.5% from $53.9 billion a year earlier. While federally funded R&D grew to $39 billion from $33 billion in FY 2009, an 18% gain, industry-sponsored research stayed flat at $4 billion both years.
“If you want to build systems and processes and reward structures that encourage innovative new companies, you need a source of innovation to license technology from,” Todd Sherer, Ph.D., president of AUTM, told GEN. “That’s where the university pretty quickly comes into the analysis.”
For biopharmas, universities are a source not only of new technology but of experts for consulting arrangements and, especially for schools with academic medical centers, often a source of patients for clinical trials, Dr. Sherer pointed out. “More and more, they are telling us that they want to look at our research assets—not just technologies and research opportunities but what assets do you have that we might be able to partner with you in some creative, innovative ways and help make this drug discovery, this R&D continuum work more effectively.”
The translational focus poses a challenge to universities, which as a result must get better at picking translational projects, he noted. Where once universities gave funds freely to researchers, not expecting to see results let alone results with market potential, schools have learned to explore patent possibilities, with help from industry experts during their project selection processes, “so that we can think about clinical and regulatory issues and the kinds of things that might stop a project from getting to market,” Dr. Sherer explained.