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Stake in RNAi Spinouts Drives Record IP Licensing Revenue for UMass in FY 2007

The five-campus University of Massachusetts system earlier this month announced that it took in approximately $41.4 million in revenues from intellectual property commercialization in its 2007 fiscal year, the most the school has generated since its technology transfer office opened for business in 1994.
A significant portion of UMass’ 2007 licensing revenues were derived from its stake in RNAi-related companies, and although research and licensing activity in this area will likely remain strong, the university also expects to augment its life sciences commercialization activities by tapping into its home state’s recently unveiled billion dollar life sciences funding initiative.
The $41.4 million in technology licensing revenues generated in the fiscal year ended June 30 surpassed the previous institutional record of $28.7 million in fiscal year 2005. The school generated approximately $27.1 million in licensing revenues in 2006.
In 2007, UMass research resulted in 174 invention disclosures split among four of its five campuses, including five from the Boston campus; 15 from the Dartmouth campus; 30 from the Lowell campus; and 79 from the UMass Medical School campus in Worcester. Only UMass Amherst did not generate any invention disclosures in 2007.
The school also said that the invention disclosures resulted in 106 patent applications and 78 technology licenses through the office of Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property, or CVIP. UMass did not provide invention disclosure, patent application, or technology license figures for 2006.
“As you would expect for a university with an academic medical center, a significant portion of our revenue is from life sciences and health science, whether it’s [related to] drugs or other related technologies,” Liby DeVecchi, a university spokesperson, told BTW last week. “A significant portion [of our revenue] does come from our medical school campus in Worcester, but these numbers show that there are innovative technologies being developed across our campuses, and that there is CVIP activity across our campuses.”
Approximately 22 percent, or a little over $9 million, of the $41.4 million in total revenues resulted from the sale of stock UMass held in RNAi-related companies Sirna (now a subsidiary of Merck) and CytRx, both of which had licensed key RNAi technology developed in part by UMass researcher Craig Mello, DeVecchi said.
Although UMass has a wide variety of biomedical-related invention disclosures and licensing agreements – including licenses related to a monoclonal antibody for treating childhood respiratory infections and to the popular allergy drug Claritin – it seems as if RNAi could continue to serve as a cash cow of sorts for the university.
According to DeVecchi, the UMass Medical School recently hired two additional top researchers in the RNAi arena: Melissa Moore, an mRNA expert previously with Brandeis University; and Victor Ambros, a former mentor of Craig Mello who will be joining UMass Medical from Dartmouth University Medical School.
DeVecchi said that research and licensing related to RNAi “is gearing up now, but we certainly expect more in the future. There have been a number of other related startups, and although I think the licensing is pretty active for us now, we certainly expect more in the future. It’s my understanding that the lifespan of these things tends to be five, 10, or 15 years out, and this is some pretty recent work.”
Even without the revenues derived from the sale of its stock in the RNAi-related companies, UMass would have surpassed its previous best yearly revenue figure by about $5 million, a fact that can be attributed to a concerted effort the university has made to move its technologies out the door under President Jack Wilson, DeVecchi said.

“In the early 1990s, we were certainly not on track.”

“In the early 1990s, we were certainly not on track,” DeVecchi said, adding that in 1994, the year CVIP was established, the school only realized about $195,000 in technology commercialization revenues.
“There are a number of things that helped us support and grow these efforts,” DeVecchi said. These include actively recruiting professional staff for CVIP; the establishment of a science and technology fund that provides annual seed grants to faculty researchers with promising technologies; the participation of the Mass Tech Transfer Center, a three-year-old state agency designed to speed technology commercialization from Massachusetts universities and research institutions; and the decision to authorize investments in university startups.
“The policies that President Wilson has supported and the climate that he helped create are helping us to grow this pretty dramatically,” DeVecchi said. “We have an A-team of revenue generators at this point, but we’re also working hard to grow a farm team of new technologies and licenses across the campuses.
“We’ve had pretty steady growth, and it’s quite a milestone for us to surpass $40 million in revenue for IP,” she added.
UMass also hopes to bolster its technology commercialization capabilities, particularly in the life sciences, by securing a piece of the $1 billion Massachusetts life sciences initiative, which includes a significant amount of investment at Massachusetts colleges and universities, announced in May by Governor Deval Patrick.
The initiative includes a proposal for a stem cell research registry to be maintained by UMass Medical, as well as plans for an RNAi research center at UMass Med, which is expected to receive significant funding under the legislation, RNAi News, a BTW sister publication, reported last month.
“Certainly we feel that is going to attract lots of research activity and other top researchers to the university, generally in the medical school,” DeVecchi said. “This proposal by the governor seems to be moving forward and Massachusetts will be making the kinds of investments that other states have.
“We’re really hoping that because of the university’s strengths in the life sciences that a significant portion will go to us, and certainly the early talk of a stem cell bank and some other things leads us to believe that,” she added. “And we believe that will help our ability to foster new technologies and create new spinoff companies.”

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