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US Government Must Take Steps to Strengthen Industry-Academia Ties, PCAST Report Says

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WASHINGTON, DC — The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology last month issued a report that details the role university-industry research partnerships play in the nation’s economy, and provides recommendations on how to improve these relationships to promote an “innovation ecosystem” in the US.
 
In its report, the group states that the economic and regulatory environments in the US require significant long-term changes, such as modifications to the R&D tax credit; urges the government to develop guidance documents on intellectual property and technology-transfer practices; and seeks changes to federal tax-exempt policies that it claims hinder industry-supported research on university campuses.
 
In addition, the report urges the government to support a model of open collaboration between industry and academia; to formalize and enhance connection points between the private and public sectors; and to develop tools and metrics to better measure the results of research partnerships.
 
PCAST has submitted the report to the Bush Administration in recent weeks, and is currently preparing a similar document it plans to deliver to the transition team for President-elect Barack Obama, the council said.
 
The report, entitled “University-Private Sector Research Partnerships in the Innovation Ecosystem,” was announced and distributed to attendees of a meeting of the University-Industry Demonstration Partnership at the National Academies of Sciences, held here this week.
 
Luis Proenza, president of the University of Akron, Ohio, and co-chair of the PCAST subcommittee on university-private sector research partnerships that compiled the report, summarized its key findings and recommendations during a keynote presentation that kicked off the meeting.
 
The report compiles information collected by PCAST over the past two years through meetings with public- and private-sector groups, and briefings with representatives from more than 20 university-private sector research partnerships.
 
The report also contains topics discussed at PCAST meetings in September 2007 and January and April this year, including subcommittee meetings and site visits to the National Institutes of Health and Arizona State University, which in recent years has developed a prime example of public-private research partnerships through its SkySong Innovation Center in Scottsdale.
 
Lastly, the report highlights approximately 20 case studies in an attempt to illustrate best practices and trends in university-industry research partnerships. Among the case studies are Singapore’s Biopolis and Fusionopolis; the Purdue Discovery Park; the Energy Biosciences Institute; the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center; the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine’s Office of Corporate Alliances; the Gates Foundation; the Mann Foundation for Biomedical Engineering; and the Kaufmann Foundation.
 

“R&D does not revolve around only academia or only industry, and the government plays a huge role.”

PCAST divides its report into five general categories: basic research and innovation; economic and regulatory policies impacting US innovation and research partnerships; network models of open innovation; connection points between partners in the “innovation ecosystem;” and methods of measuring and assessing innovation.

 
In the first area, the report presents statistics showing that universities represent the primary engine for discovery research that can lead to innovation, and that the federal government is the primary source of funding for such research.
 
The report argues that the federal government should recognize and maintain this role even as it explores other partnership models. Speaking about industry’s role, Proenza said during his address that “there is a tremendous opportunity here” for industry to sponsor more research at universities. Currently industry supports about 5 percent of all academic R&D in the US, according to the report.
 
Discussing the distribution of R&D funding, the report said that US industry surpassed the US government in the early 1980’s in total R&D expenditures, and the gap has widened every year since. Industry is now responsible for approximately 65 percent of all R&D expenditures in the US, according to PCAST.
 
In the category of “economic and regulatory policies,” PCAST argues that the US government should revamp the federal R&D tax credit to create a more stable and effective incentive for industry to perform R&D. PCAST also recommends that the government modify or clarify existing federal tax-exempt policies to ensure they do not unintentionally hinder industry-supported research conducted on university campuses.
 
PCAST also suggests that the Department of Commerce, working with the National Science and Technology Council, develop guidance documents and educational tools supporting intellectual property and technology-transfer practices both for university and private-sector partners.
 
In the area of “network models of open innovation,” PCAST recommends that the NSTC initiate a project to evaluate and possibly implement mechanisms in which ”many partners from particular regions, or even worldwide, collaborate to drive research in specific areas.”
 
And, citing the success of the X Prize Foundation in driving innovation, the council urges federal agencies to expand the use of cash prizes to encourage scientists to perform challenging research.
 
In the section “connection points,” PCAST suggests that barriers blocking collaborations between industry and academia be limited, either by the partners themselves or the federal government. One specific recommendation for this is to “formalize and enhance opportunities and incentives for researchers to have flexibility in moving between academia, industry, and government,” according to the report.
 
Lastly, PCAST recommends that federal R&D funding agencies, working with statistical-analysis agencies such as the Bureau of Economic Analysis, should “develop and apply improved tools and metrics to measure the outputs of research partnerships and innovation to guide policies and incentive structures.”
 
Organizations such as the Association of University Technology Managers, with the support of partners such as the Kauffman Foundation, National Governors Association, and American Association of Universities, have been developing new metrics to gauge tech-transfer output and corporate-sponsored research performed on university campuses (see BTW, 3/5/2008), but PCAST argues that this, too, is an area in which the federal government should be more heavily involved.
 
Following his presentation, Proenza was asked by an audience member how he thought the incoming Obama administration would affect R&D policy and public-private partnerships in the US. Proenza said that it is too early to tell, but in general “you can probably expect to see a stronger focus on domestic policy and R&D structure.”
 
He added that although the release of the report was timed so that the Bush administration would receive it, PCAST has also prepared a document to be delivered to the transition team for the new administration.
 
Summarizing the report, Proenza told meeting attendees, most of whom were high-ranking research officials at US research universities and corporations, that they play an important role in disseminating the information contained within the report and influencing policy makers to adopt some of the specific recommendations in coming years.
 
“We all tend to point fingers,” Proenza said. “It’s important that we stop doing that, and we’ve begun that process at UIDP.
 
“R&D does not revolve around only academia or only industry, and the government plays a huge role,” he added.

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