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Organizations Showcase Web-Based Tech-Transfer Tools at University Tech Managers Meeting


ORLANDO, Fla. – Eli Lilly, Cornell University, and the Kauffman Foundation's iBridge Network each unveiled separate web-based initiatives last week designed to bolster university technology commercialization by making it easier for academic and industrial researchers to partner.

One of the tools, a program sponsored by Eli Lilly, will allow external researchers at academic institutions or small biotech companies to submit their compounds free of charge via a web portal to the pharma giant, which will conduct phenotypic, disease-relevant screens on the chemicals in hopes of uncovering potential areas of further collaboration.

The Lilly program, called Phenotypic Drug Discovery, or PD2, is not yet active but should be by April, company officials said.

The other web tools include a Cornell University portal called MyIP that allows faculty inventors to better manage their intellectual property portfolio; and a redesigned version of the iBridge Network, an online IP marketplace established by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in late 2007.

Representatives from the various organizations presented their initiatives at the Association of University Technology Managers annual meeting, held here last week.

Lilly's PD2 program created a buzz among conference attendees as the company's exhibit booth saw a constant stream of traffic from curious academic tech-transfer officers and researchers.

The Lilly scientist manning the exhibit declined to be interviewed or identified for this article because she was not authorized to speak to the press about the matter. Likewise, a spokesperson for the company told BTW that Lilly was not ready to discuss PD2 in detail until its likely launch in April.

However, Lilly's AUTM delegate disclosed some details about the program during a conference workshop held at the conference exploring new ideas for academic-industry partnerships in drug discovery.

As part of PD2, the drug giant plans to provide external researchers with no-cost access to an internal phenotypic screening panel that uses complex, disease-relevant in vitro models designed to complement and support target-based drug discovery.

Under the model, tech-transfer staff, academic licensing executives, or small biotech companies become members of the program by inking a materials transfer agreement.

Individual researchers from the partnering university or company would create a PD2 account that would allow them to confidentially submit compounds of interest to Lilly via a secure web portal.

Lilly would then screen the compounds internally and return the data to the partnering institution, while a team of Lilly scientists evaluates the data and identifies opportunities for partnerships.

According to the company, all IP rights would remain with the submitter, which would retain the freedom to publish, until Lilly decides if it wants to negotiate an exclusive licensing agreement for the compounds.

Lilly is betting the program will allow it to better identify and establish academic collaborations and licensing opportunities, while increasing its access to diverse molecular compounds, according to the company's AUTM presentation.

Meantime, benefits for the partnering institution include access to relevant assays and biological data for synthesized compounds, the ability to maintain IP and confidentiality of structures, and the option of entering into a full-blown discovery partnership with Lilly.

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According to Lilly, at least six academic institutions are working with the company as pilot participants in PD2: the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Kansas University, Purdue University, Scripps Florida, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Pittsburgh.

"I think it is an interesting idea," a tech-transfer officer at one of the pilot institutions told BTW. The officer requested anonymity citing confidentiality agreements with Lilly. "Pharma's innovation pipeline is drying up, and universities sometimes find it difficult to know whether early-stage compounds discovered in their labs are suitable for research or licensing agreements. It's definitely a good thing that they are thinking of new ways to collaborate with academia."

Lilly requested that the site's web address not be revealed until the project is up and running.

Empowering Inventors

Meantime, Doug Hexter, a partner with web design firm World Design Group, presented a poster at AUTM regarding Cornell's MyIP web portal, which WDG designed for the university.

Cornell's Center for Technology Enterprise and Commercialization hired WDG in 2007 to design MyIP, and launched the site that year for its faculty, staff, and student entrepreneurs in response to inventor demand for better insight about activity on their IP portfolios.

Hexter told BTW that his company and Cornell are now jointly making the portal available for licensing to tech-transfer offices at other universities and research institutions, which is why they were presenting a poster at AUTM.

Before Cornell launched MyIP, CCTEC staff spent hours answering status questions from inventors and compiling custom reports, Hexter said. Cornell manages a portfolio of nearly 2,000 active inventions and receives roughly 240 new inventions each year, activity that takes a significant amount of staff time.

MyIP provides Cornell faculty, staff, and student inventors with a secure account and the ability to view the patent, licensing, and marketing status for each of their inventions. The site also allows CCTEC staff to create new inventor accounts, update inventor status, pull usage reports, and change announcements and other site content.

Cornell said that currently about one-half of active inventors at the university are regularly logging into MyIP. Furthermore, the school said that the site helps its inventors understand that CCTEC is transparent, responsive, and taking good care of their IP portfolio.

"MyIP has saved our office significant staff time and dramatically increased inventor satisfaction," Alan Paau, executive director and vice provost for technology transfer and economic development at Cornell, said in a statement.

One of those inventors, Steven Gross, a professor of pharmacology and director of the mass spectrometry facility at Cornell's Weill Medical College in New York, told BTW that MyIP is a "one-stop shop" for accessing specific claims in patents, terms of existing licensing deals, and tracking contact information.

Gross said that there are 22 active patents on which he is an inventor, and a number of related foreign filings, "and each invention takes more than a file cabinet worth of paper for the prosecution and all the follow ups. It's unwieldy."

He added that although his lab has been lucky to "stumble upon some interesting things that have commercial potential, my job is not to commercialize things, or do business, and we don't have the wherewithal to manage these things.

"This is a really convenient way of accessing all my materials," he added.

And although tech-transfer offices are efficient at filing patents and determining whether an invention is commercializable, they also don't have all the resources necessary to provide personalized service for every individual inventor, or to market technologies to potential commercialization partners.

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"There is no way these guys know everything about everyone in the field about these patents," Gross said. "I go to these scientific meetings in niche fields, and so do the pharma and biotech guys. Once it comes to the point where we're ready to discuss a deal, at least I can bring the conversation up to a level where we're discussing a formal arrangement."

Cornell employees are able to access the MyIP portal using their Cornell e-mail IDs. Hexter said that other universities interested in licensing the MyIP portal should contact Melba Kurman, manager for marketing and outreach at CCTEC.

iBridging the Gap

The third development, the iBridge Network, is an online university innovation marketplace developed and launched nearly two years ago by The Kauffman Foundation, a non-profit entrepreneurial education group (see BTW, 10/1/2007). The group recently redesigned its website, and representatives were attempting to drum up interest for the portal at AUTM.

Several for-profit and non-profit organizations continue to develop and offer web-based marketplaces to help cull university IP. These organizations, which include SparkIP, e-IP, Taeus, and OceanTomo, offer different financial models and user interfaces.

The iBridge Network hopes to distinguish itself from such strict "IP marketplace" sites by offering a variety of services to connect academic researchers and industry collaborators and to spur partnerships between them, iBridge Director Laura Paglione told BTW at the show.

"We've re-launched to incorporate what we've learned over the last two years," Paglione said.

"A lot of people think that it's just about licensing technologies, [but] we are focusing on more than just IP-protected materials," Paglione said.

For instance, she said, many users have reported that iBridge has helped broker the exchange of research materials between universities and potential partners, including other academic institutions and companies.

iBridge also has a new search browser interface that, like the older version, offers specific tags that allow users to browse innovations based on subject matter or institution; but also features a better search function than the older site.

Once users reach an innovation in which they are interested, the listing features related tags that users can click on to identify all listed innovations that fall under that category.

The site also features an algorithm that determines an "interest score" for each innovation that takes into account page views, licensing activity, and other information, so interested parties can see the most popular innovations on the site.

Paglione said that 68 US universities or non-profit research universities currently list their technologies on iBridge. Comparatively, three months ago just 40 institutions listed their techs on the site, she added. Likewise, the number of technologies listed on the site has increased from about 1,600 a year ago to about 5,650 now, Paglione said.

The site is completely free to both those offering technologies and shopping for technologies. It is currently supported in part by the Kauffman Foundation and in part by a pay-to-play system that encourages universities that are able to pay to help support the site. "It's kind of a can-pay, do-pay model right now," Paglione said. "The [organizations] that post more actually pay less" under the model, she added.