The University of Akron Research Foundation earlier this month said it will provide technology-commercialization support to Youngstown State University as part of a broader goal of promoting technology development and economic growth in Northeast Ohio.
The deal comes one month after a similar collaboration with Cleveland State University, and will likely be followed by agreements at other regional schools and hospitals, a UA official said this week.
And although UARF is providing tech-transfer support to benefit the region, the partnerships may help UA bolster its own tech-transfer activities, particularly in the biomedical sciences.
Under the agreements with YSU and CSU, UARF is providing services such as evaluating products and technologies for commercialization; negotiating and administering contracts; identifying collaborative opportunities among the participating schools; and supporting emerging enterprises.
Kenneth Preston, director of technology transfer at the University of Akron, told BTW this week that UARF is in a position to provide these services because its staff has industry experience.
“Within the state of Ohio, we’re somewhat unique in that we have a staff of lawyers, although quite small,” Preston said. “We found that this has helped us to be quite successful than many other tech-transfer offices in the state of Ohio just because of the experience that we have, the backgrounds that we have, and some of the successes we’ve put together.”
Although just a pup itself – the program was started 1995 – UARF is an old hand at commercializing academic research. It is arguably the most successful school in the region and one of the most successful of its size in the country at doing so.
UARF won the University Economic Development Association’s National 2007 Award of Excellence in Technology Commercialization, and ranks first in Ohio in rate of return per research dollar. In a statement, UA vice president for research George Newkome said that the school had increased its research funding almost $6 million in the past four years, and has been involved in the creation of 21 companies.
The school was also one of 10 featured in a National Science Foundation-funded report by consulting firm Innovation Associates on how smaller universities and non-profit research institutions can achieve tech-transfer success by focusing on niche research areas (see BTW, 11/19/2007).
UA’s niche area, in which it has a long tradition, is polymers, primarily because of its location in a region of the US known for manufacturing tires and other rubber products.
“That’s our primary focus, but we [also] have computer science, chemistry, biology, and hard-end engineering,” Preston said. “A major portion of the polymer program does focus on biomedical applications – everything from wound healing to coatings.”
“All of these, we think, if we can continue to develop our collaborative efforts can really help us move toward greater growth in the biomedical area, which is one of the key growth areas, along with new materials, for this region.”
As an example, he said, UA in 2006 signed a technology-licensing agreement with Boston Scientific expanding the company’s rights to a family of polymers developed by UA researchers for use in medical devices such as stents.
Nevertheless, UA is not known for its biomedical research program. It is an area that the university may expand as it forays into tech-commercialization partnerships with CSU, which has a modest biology graduate program in its college of sciences; and to a lesser extent with YSU.
More important to bolstering its biomedical tech-transfer chops may be future collaborations. “We have offered some of the same services to some of the other institutions in our region, and they’re giving thought to it,” Preston said. These institutions include the Northeast Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, a number of local hospitals, Kent State University, and others, he said.
Preston pointed out that UA and NEOUCOM have developed an artificial pancreas that is currently undergoing clinical trials at the Cleveland Clinic, and that UA has also collaborated on several research projects with Ohio’s Summa Health System, which runs several regional hospitals; as well as Akron General Hospital and Akron Childrens Hospital.
“All of these, we think, if we can continue to develop our collaborative efforts, can really help us move toward greater growth in the biomedical area, which is one of the key growth areas, along with new materials, for this region,” Preston said.
UA maintains that supporting tech transfer at YSU, CSU, and any other regional institutions or hospitals, is based on the idea that UA, along with others, can only benefit from general regional technology and economic development success.
“It really is the main driver,” Preston said. “There certainly is a real interest in promoting this in this region. The Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education just released a recommendations report … and one of the main recommendations was that the UA concept be supported and extended because of the benefits that the commission sees in these collaborative efforts. We’re trying to do our best to accomplish the goals of the state and the region.”
Things could get complicated once CSU, YSU, and any other regional institutions receiving support from UARF start having commercial success, and especially if significant technology licensing income begins flowing back into the region.
But Preston said that UARF is not concerned with IP ownership or dividing up tech-commercialization revenues at this point.
“If this would develop into some kind of real regional ‘research foundation’ – a common licensing arm for the entire region – we might develop something along those lines,” he said. “But currently that is not the idea. We’re not charging anybody for the effort. If we incur some out-of-pocket costs, we would expect that [YSU or CSU] would pick up those costs.”