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competition, and our institutional character
When the focus shifts to the bottom line,
basic research always takes a hit.
Bagley, Assistant Professor of Law
transfer is just a subset of knowledge transfer.
Liotta, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Chemistry
New: "If technology transfer
offers a solution to the funding crisis in higher education,
it does so only in a very limited way."
interview with Lanny Liebeskind, Professor of Chemistry
me the money . . .
licensing income and patents from Emory and other institutions
is applied research?
does funding work in the sciences?
from Stanley Chodorow, CEO of the California Virtual University
and former provost of the University of Pennsylvania
Academic Exchange December
1999/January 2000 Contents Page
new drug to stop AIDS, a gene that heals broken bones, a group
of cells that may lead to new treatments for neurological disease.
For the Emory researchers who discovered
or invented them, these fruits of long labor are ripe for picking.
All patented within the last few years, they may be worth a fortune--both
for the researchers and the university. Some now say that technology
transfer, or the delivery of such academic research into the
marketplace, could be the solution to the looming crisis in higher
There's a bull market for academic ideas. Emory's net fees and
royalties from patented inventions topped out at nearly $5.1
million in 1998--more than twice the amount from the previous
year and almost five times as much as in 1994. In 1998, the university
was issued thirty-six patents, compared to fourteen in 1997 and
six in 1994. Nationally, research universities earned more than
$446 million in royalties from inventions in 1997, a 33-percent
increase over 1996.
Technology transfer has acquired an even greater immediacy at
Emory with the planned Biotechnology Development Center, an "incubator"
that will nurture nascent biotechnology companies with facilities,
seed funding, and management until they are secure enough to
stand on their own as businesses. The center will occupy part
of the forty-two-acre Emory West campus, formerly the Georgia
Mental Health Institute, which the university purchased last
year from the state. In partnership with Georgia Tech, it will
focus on high-risk ventures on a sort of mutual-fund model to
minimize investor risk. It is projected to have an impact on
the state of some $3 billion over ten years.
In a sense, this explosive growth is payoff for decades of investment
into biomedical research by the National Institutes of Health
and other federal entities. As federally funded basic science
programs have begun to generate practical applications, universities
have started to reap the benefits of 1980 legislation allowing
institutions to own and patent inventions coming out of those
With the aid of the Office of Technology Transfer, created in
1993, Emory researchers may obtain patents and copyrights and
market their inventions, either by licensing them to established
companies or creating new, "start-up" companies. Emory
may receive licensing fees, milestone payments, royalties, or
equity from the arrangements. According to current university
policy, forty percent of the net income goes to the inventor,
twenty percent goes to support the inventor's research, and the
remaining forty percent goes back to the university for research
and education, as required by law.
With this structure in place, researchers are increasingly becoming
entrepreneurs. Professor of Pediatrics Raymond Schinazi and Samuel
Candler Dobbs Professor of Chemistry Dennis Liotta are two of
three collaborators who patented Coviracil, an antiviral compound
that has been shown in clinical trials to be effective in treating
aids and hepatitis B infections. Schinazi was one of the founders
of Triangle Pharmaceuticals, which is developing Coviracil. Liotta
chairs the company's scientific advisory board. Emory holds equity
in this publicly-traded company and will receive royalties once
the drug is FDA-approved.
Other arrangements involve licensing agreements with companies
to develop and market innovations, such as that of Associate
Professor of Orthopedics Scott Boden, who identified a gene that
encourages bone growth and regeneration after injury. Likewise,
Associate Professor of Cell Biology Marla Luskin has licensed
her patented method of collecting
certain neuronal cells that could be used to treat neurological
"If we have any intention of developing an idea and turning
it into a product or service, we have to obtain intellectual
property protection," says Liotta. "No commercial entity
would ever take the risks-which are large-of development unless
they were guaranteed some period of exclusive manufacture and
Not everyone views technology
transfer as a miracle cure for the
ailing finances of higher education. Some faculty are cautious
about research priorities that favor market interests. "I
don't think one should only be motivated by the prospect of receiving
some financial gain or therapeutic application," says Luskin.
"Advancing our understanding of basic science is also a
very worthwhile purpose."
Researchers also voice the concern that economic competition
and confidentiality agreements in academic-business alliances
may hinder collaboration and restrict access to biomedical tools,
software, and substances. "There have been people less interested
in working together because I have a patent," Luskin says.
"That's a drawback in the biotech interaction."
Others worry less about the impact of secrecy. "Confidentiality
agreements rarely hinder collaboration, says Boden. "Usually,
if a collaboration is critical, an agreement can be signed with
the collaborator. The primary reason for confidentiality is to
afford the owner of new intellectual property the ability to
properly evaluate and file for patent application, if possible,
prior to public disclosure, which would prevent and invalidate
any patent. In general, this may result in a small delay in release
of information, but not indefinite witholding."
Finally, technology transfer often seems tainted with an air
of conflict of interest and conflict of commitment: is it proper
for professors to hold equity in businesses related to their
federally funded research, to have dual commitments to start-up
companies and faculty duties?
Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor and chair of chemistry Lanny S.
Liebeskind has been aware of these potential conflicts in his
experience with technology transfer in three different projects
in the last several years. "I have learned first-hand about
fundamental philosophical differences that exist between the
business community and the academy and about the difficulties
associated with any attempt to merge the two," he says.
"Technology transfer requires a great investment of time
and effort that are unrelated to scholarship. If creative time
is a zero-sum game, something precious has been lost and will
never be recovered. Furthermore, once you travel down the technology
transfer path, there is an underlying temptation to view much
of scholarship in terms of patenting opportunities. This mentality
warps the scholarly culture of the university. To protect the
latter, discipline, good judgment, and administrative oversight
are essential." A.O.A.