November 1, 2003

UNT Health Science Centerâ??s research has increasingly been focusing on developing its translational research efforts, those that extend basic discoveries into useful products.

â??This is often called moving a product from the bench to the bedside,â? said Robert Gracy, PhD, associate vice president for research and biotechnology. â??We want to take research findings and translate them into new drugs, treatments and diagnostics.â?

â??Weâ??ve done very well in a relatively short period of time,â? he said.

The health science center added a division of technology transfer to the Office of Research and Biotechnology in 1999 with the goal of helping faculty through the process of developing their research into marketable products.The tech transfer effort mirrored a national trend in which academic institutions and faculty began realizing that their research had economic potential.

Before biotechnology became a booming business in the 1990s, most academic researchers only thought of their work as an addition to the overall body of scientific knowledge. â??Scientists would publish their findings without first protecting them, with the expectation that their research would enter the public domain and be available to anyone and everyone,â? Dr. Gracy said.

But instead of companies seeing the potential in the research and developing it further, most saw only the financial risk of basing their product on unprotected intellectual property, he said. Often, that meant that potentially useful discoveries remained undeveloped.

Companies prefer to develop their own proprietary research in-house or work with partners on research that has been protected, he said. â??That way, they know that they are developing a product that can be competitive and are more likely to choose to pay the high costs involved in developing it to a marketable drug or medical device.â?

By establishing a tech transfer office, the health science center helped pave the way to move research conducted on campus into the translational arena.

The office has developed policies and procedures to expedite patents and intellectual property. The staff also guide researchers through the process of protecting and marketing their work and help identify potential corporate partners.

With the addition of a technology transfer office, a paradigm shift began to occur, Dr. Gracy said. â??Faculty began thinking about the economic value of practical extensions of their discoveries, rather than only considering its value as an academic pursuit,â? he said.

The tech transfer office conducts due diligence on potential partners and ensures that contracts build in protections for the researcher and the institution. â??Itâ??s not all about making money; sometimes itâ??s about protecting the work and not losing money,â? Dr. Gracy said.

The office evaluates its success in four key technology transfer areas: invention disclosures, patent applications filed, licenses executed and start-up companies formed, Dr. Gracy said.

During the past three years, the institution had 31 inventions disclosed by researchers, filed for 27 patents, executed 10 licensing agreements and formed 3 start-up companies, according to annual figures reported by the technology transfer office.â??If you compare total dollars, then obviously we canâ??t compare with the University of California with its more than $2 billion in research,â? Dr. Gracy said. â??However, we have become very efficient and effective in translating our research.â?

When these outcomes are calculated per research dollar awarded, the health science centerâ??s productivity becomes apparent, he said.â??Our success with maximizing our research dollars ranks us among the top institutions in the country,â? he said.Recently, the health science center underwent three separate reviews of its tech transfer activities. The staff surveyed its clients and partners, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reviewed all health-related institutions, and an outside consultant evaluated the office for its effectiveness.

â??All three reviews gave us very high scores and came to the same conclusions â?? we are very effective with the resources we have and could do more with additional resources,â? Dr. Gracy said.

A specific problem area revealed by the reviews is the lack of funds to pay legal and patent fees to protect new intellectual property with potential, he said. The office is now working to address this issue by establishing a source of funds that can be used to help projects through the intellectual property process.

â??Most academic institutions face this same bottleneck,â? Dr. Gracy said. â??Some of the established and successful universities use royalty income from established successful projects to fund newer projects that are just starting the process. Weâ??re not there yet.â?

The office has added some services to help researchers protect their work, including helping them file for provisional patents that protect their work for one year. â??That gives us some time to locate potential partners who are able to provide the resources to continue the process,â? he said.

The health science center is well on its way to becoming a recognized player in the biotechnology field and moving discoveries through the intellectual property â??pipelineâ? from the laboratory to the marketplace, he said. â??You can put projects into the pipeline, but they need to go all the way through the process and reach the public to make it all truly worthwhile,â? Dr. Gracy said.

The technology transfer office has become an active partner with Tech Fort Worth, a local business incubator that helps start-up companies take discoveries into the marketplace. â??We also work with investors, venture capital companies and corporate partners to identify opportunities for them to support research on our campus and move intellectual property through the pipeline,â? he said.


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