Examples of innovative arrangements between university researchers and corporate product development are increasingly common. One veteran tech transfer executive says that’s at least in part a function of the corporate side of the equation improving its input into the collaborations.
“This may not make me overly popular in some circles,” comments Larry Hope, associate director of new ventures and business development, at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC), Houston, “but for years, industry was arguably abusive to academic partners.” He explains: “Significant research efforts were built around ‘free drugs’ or ‘free equipment’ models, where industry would provide minimal support and negotiate to own or otherwise encumber all intellectual property developed. Most academic scientists were willing victims in the scheme.” Many, he says, “considered this sort of arrangement a ‘win.’
There are certainly times when this arrangement can make sense, when coupled with true research funds to support the work. But it is not the preferred model. In fact, ‘free drugs’ has become a bit of a joke with our team. We simply will not engage in these sorts of lopsided relationships.”
Instead, he adds, corporate sponsors are increasingly on board with what he terms “an ideal relationship,” which “involves truly aligned views of the project, the goals and the economics. Usually, an outside company has developed or is developing something truly unique. If it does not recognize that the MDACC is also making a unique and valuable contribution to the project, the relationship is likely doomed.” He adds: “Most of our modern deals have a research phase with predetermined commercialization economics.”
And his institution has a lot of those “modern deals.” MDACC, he says, is involved “in many on several fronts.” Models vary, but include these:
- large multi-year, multi-product clinical trials;
- start-ups that sponsor a significant portion of research back to the institution in the early years;
- asset LLCs run in a very capital-efficient, virtual mode while assets are being de-risked; and
- large collaborative deals that include a preclinical phase, a clinical phase and license/commercialization economics, all negotiated on the front end.
A variation on the theme is “a marriage of outside IP with MDACC IP/expertise with pre-determined economics,” Hope adds. In general, he stresses, “industry-sponsored research is highly encouraged by our senior administration,” which “has literally removed barriers and brought in individuals with a more proactive, entrepreneurial mindset to allow the institution and our group to flourish.”
And here’s why, he emphasizes: “There are brilliant scientists and clinicians at MDACC. They are great at inventing and getting to a proof-of-concept stage. But, in general, we simply do not have the ability to complete the development cycle. An outside commercial entity must be involved at some point to provide focus and funds to move most projects forward efficiently.” And it’s not just admin and the tech transfer community that appreciate corporate sponsorship, he adds. “It seems most scientists fully embrace that strategic corporate collaborations are an additional, viable source of development funds,” he says.
A detailed article on a range of novel industry sponsorship structures appears in the September issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, and gain access to our rich 9-year archive of best practices and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE.