Britt E. Erickson and Susan R. Morrissey
Tech Transfer: President Obama announces several initiatives to encourage, support commercialization
President Barack Obama announced several new initiatives last Friday to speed up the transfer of research from the laboratory to the market. The announcements were made at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology in Alexandria, Va., during the signing of historic patent overhaul legislation (C&EN, Sept. 19, page 6).
The seven initiatives involve several federal agencies, universities, and private organizations. They are a mix of prizes to encourage commercialization, programs to enhance technology transfer, and entrepreneurial assistance efforts.
“This is the economy we need to build—one where innovation is encouraged, education is a national mission, and new jobs and businesses take root right here in America,” Obama said at the signing ceremony.
Two of the initiatives are aimed at accelerating drug development and helping biotech entrepreneurs. The first is a partnership between the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the Food & Drug Administration. It aims to develop a chip to quickly screen drugs for toxicity and effectiveness. NIH plans to spend up to $70 million over the next five years to develop the drug-screening chip, and DARPA is expected to spend about the same amount. The effort is just one of many projects expected to be led by the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which is set to launch on Oct. 1 (C&EN, Feb. 14, page 25).
“Drug toxicity is one of the most common reasons why promising compounds fail,” NIH Director Francis S. Collins said in a statement. “We need to know which ones are safe and effective much earlier on in the process.”
The other drug-related initiative makes it easier for start-up companies to license technologies that are patented by NIH and FDA intramural researchers. To help start-up companies commercialize products from NIH and FDA inventions, NIH is decreasing the cost and amount of paperwork involved in obtaining a license agreement. Companies that are less than five years old and have fewer than 50 employees are eligible for the new start-up agreements. The effort is part of President Obama’s Startup America Initiative launched earlier this year.
Small businesses will also get a hand with from a collaborative pilot program by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, the National Science Foundation, and the Small Business Administration. The program will initially provide comprehensive intellectual property support to 100 NSF Small Business Innovation Research grant recipients, and it will engage external professionals to provide pro bono or low cost IP services to recipients.
To help facilitate tech transfer out of universities, Obama announced three other initiatives. The first launches the University Commercialization Prize, a $400,000 program supported by NSF, the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The competition is intended to identify and promote incentives to adopt best practices that improve university commercialization efforts.
The Administration, with the aid of the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities, is working with 135 university leaders to bolster entrepreneurship by building stronger ties between academia and industry, investors, and federal agencies. And the Coulter Foundation is adding four new universities to its Translational Research Partnership program, which requires universities to set up endowments to encourage translational research.
The final initiative Obama announced is the development, by January 2012, of a “Bioeconomy Blueprint” detailing Administration-wide steps to harness biological research innovations to address national challenges of health, food, energy, and the environment.