Moving Ideas to Market Becomes the UA Way
Policies on intellectual property and promotion and tenure have been revised to accelerate commercialization activities across the University.
It was one year ago that University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart presented "Never Settle," the UA’s strategic plan, to the Arizona Board of Regents.
One important priority of the plan is the expansion of research and discovery to ensure the institution's future success and also to benefit communities through the creation of new knowledge and the expansion of inventions taken to market.
To support that charge, and to build a dynamic "commercialization ecosystem" throughout campus, the UA has revised its intellectual property policy and its promotion and tenure policy to enhance commercialization activities while also ensuring that the University is more inclusive about the type of scholarship that is rewarded.
"Our researchers continue to come up with innovative and amazing ideas and technologies. The translation and commercialization assistance that we can provide to realize that research into marketable solutions fits very well with the Never Settle plan," said Kimberly Andrews Espy, the UA's senior vice president of research. "These revisions will provide even more incentive for our researchers to continue to explore the realm of what’s possible."
Through Never Settle and the mission of Tech Launch Arizona, which are more closely aligned with the approval of these policies, such activities will not merely continue but grow, said David Allen, TLA’s vice president. "The University is undergoing an important transformation in this arena," Allen said.
The promotion and tenure policy was revised to consider not merely commercialization but other technology transfer activities as part of the tenure process.
"I'm very enthusiastic about departments having the option to include items like patents and inventions in the broad range of possible scholarly activity that they will consider for promotion and tenure," said UA Provost Andrew Comrie. "It is important for the UA to be inclusive and progressive in the types of scholarship that advance the institution."
During fiscal year 2014, TLA worked with UA researchers to disclose 188 inventions, create 11 startup companies and file 167 patents. All told for the 2014 fiscal year, the work of TLA and its partners led to $1.6 million in revenue from intellectual property activities.
To help expand involvement and awareness, TLA hosts regular workshops to inform faculty, researchers and students about the commercialization process. TLA just completed a five-workshop series in October, and it will be offering a similar "Invention to Impact" series again in the spring.
Additionally, the Commercialization Advisory Network was launched. The network now has upward of 800 experienced domain experts, entrepreneurs, investors and others to help researchers identify and act on potential impacts of their inventions.
One recent example is an innovative way to grow vascularized human tissue — an advance that has applications in testing potential drug therapies and the development of treatments for cardiovascular disease — which recently was licensed and commercialized. TLA facilitated the development of the exclusive license agreement between the UA and Angiomics Inc., which is based in Louisville, Kentucky.
Another example: A peptide that helps people produce photo-protective melanin to prevent skin cancers was developed by UA Regents' Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Biochemistry Victor J. Hruby and the Peptide Group in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. In September, the UA licensed the invention to Teleost Biopharmaceutical, a company based on the invention, which is now moving its headquarters from Colorado to Tucson to partner long-term with the original UA inventors.
Such activities also benefit communities around the state.
Flagstaff-based Senestech and SinfoníaRx in Tucson are growing their operations in Arizona, creating high-tech, high-wage jobs. SinfoníaRx — a provider of personalized medication management, in only its second year of operation — is hiring graduates from the UA College of Pharmacy, keeping talent in Tucson.
To further accelerate growth, TLA launched the Catapult Corporation, also called "Cat Corp," to provide early-stage capital to the most promising startup companies emerging from UA researchers. Tucson’s Thomas R. Brown Foundations pledged to match up to $2.5 million raised to initiate the donor-funded organization.
In the coming year, the Arizona Board of Regents has set goals for TLA that include delivering 190 invention disclosures, 17 patents and 10 new companies.
"In almost all cases, faculty want impact, and often that comes in the form of adding to a body of knowledge," Allen said.
"We need to move that knowledge forward into the marketplace. It has to be protected. For a licensee to invest tens to hundreds of millions, they need protected IP in order to obtain a return on their investments."
Lynn Nadel, Regents' Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science and chairman of the Faculty Senate, said the policy improvements would have a long-term tangible impact.
"Whether or not our move contributes to a broad culture change is hard to predict," Nadel said, "but it should change the culture at the UA in positive ways, better connecting what we do to what the public needs."
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