U of M tech transfer operation commended for turnaround
MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (08/10/2011) —Reviewers from three of the nation’s top university technology transfer operations praised the University of Minnesota for dramatic improvements in its approach to bringing researcher discoveries to the marketplace. Among other findings, their report declared that the U of M “… has an outstanding track record of accomplishments that put it at the highest ranks of university tech transfer offices,” adding, “… the office has done so on a much more limited budget and staffing model than most of its peers. The University clearly has much for which it should be proud.”
The reviewers, leaders of the technology transfer offices at Stanford, Columbia and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, noted the dramatic turnaround since Jay Schrankler took over as executive director of the Office for Technology Commercialization (OTC) four years ago. A thorough overhaul of the university’s technology transfer operations, including recruitment of a new director, was one of the key strategies that Vice President for Research R. Timothy Mulcahy identified as a top priority when he arrived at the university in 2005.
“We feel that we’ve made great strides over the past few years, but I commissioned this review in order to have a professional evaluation of the university’s current technology commercialization business model,” Mulcahy said. “We are extremely pleased that the reviewers affirmed our own assessment of the progress made to date.”
The expiration of patents on Ziagen, the AIDS drug that has accounted for the bulk of the university’s commercialization revenues over the past decade, was identified by the reviewers as a challenge for the continued success of its tech transfer operation. Because OTC is funded entirely by royalty revenue, the reviewers cautioned against two possible reactions to the withering Ziagen revenue stream: a dramatic cut in OTC’s budget, or an increased emphasis on short-term revenue generation in order to fund the office. Citing a report by the National Academies, the reviewers noted the many additional benefits beyond royalty generation that may be derived from a strong tech transfer office, including local economic development, faculty recruitment and retention, and attracting industry-sponsored research and collaboration.
As outlined in the university’s recently published economic impact study, over the past five years inventions by university researchers have brought nearly $390 million in revenue into the state and helped fund numerous initiatives across the university, including fellowships for graduate students, critical research infrastructure and major equipment needs, development investments for university technologies, and funding for additional research.
“I look forward to working with Jay and his leadership team on implementing the quality improvement recommendations made by the reviewers,” said Mulcahy. “We will continue our efforts to make this one of most efficient and respected tech transfer operations in the nation, a status befitting this great university and the state it represents.”
The reviewers’ final report can be accessed on the OTC website at http://bit.ly/otcreview (PDF).