Industry-Sponsored Research Week

More U.S. universities move to re-open shuttered research labs


By David Schwartz
Published: May 25th, 2020

Across the U.S. research universities continue to slowly but surely open their labs to at least partial resumption, typically marking the first of larger scale plans for campus re-opening.

Emory University in Atlanta, which has kept busy with essential research into coronovirus therapeutics and vaccine development, released its three-phase plan for restarting summer research and lab activity in an e-mail to faculty, staff and grad students. The plan includes safety implementation benchmarks that, if met by labs, may lead to a broader reopening of on-campus research.

Starting May 20, faculty, staff and students currently on or returning to campus are being tested for the coronavirus, with research resuming as early as June 1 in core research facilities. Whether the safety guidelines are followed successfully will determine the expansion of research activity throughout summer, according to the plan. 

 “At present, there are no governmental limitations on Emory’s ability to begin to expand current research and scholarly activities beyond those that are deemed necessary,” the guidelines read. 

Under the first phase, research programs or “units” will be responsible for planning the distribution of PPE and sanitizing materials, as well as establishing specific safety guidelines for their work environment. Individual schools must submit their plans to the Office of the Provost by May 25 for evaluation, using a planning template provided by the university.

The second phase includes a small-scale restart of core research facilities on May 28. Graduate students will be able to return on May 31 and can conduct research if it is “necessary to maintain or establish research initiatives related to their academic progress.”

Administrators will monitor all on-campus activities from May 28 to June 21 and evaluate everything from “custodial cleaning and disinfection” to “shuttle and parking status.” Research labs will also be monitored for their ability to adhere to safe practices, which includes the use of personal protective equipment, 6-foot distancing and staggered work shifts, and could face “postponement or termination of the specific research activities” if safety procedures are not adhered to. 

During phase one and two, visitors will not be permitted to enter campus facilities and all buildings will be card access only. 

Phase three, scheduled to begin on June 21, will include the “re-opening of broader on-campus research activities” while maintaining safety guidelines. This phase has no specific end date and is contingent upon the success of on-campus infection control measures. 

Associate Professor of Chemistry Jennifer Heemstra said she expects little trouble adhering to the safety measures. “A lot of things chemists do normally ensure safety,” Heemstra said. “Surface transmission is already part of our safety culture … and the university has already given us guidelines regarding occupancy.” 

Professor of Biology Robert Liu emphasized the importance for students returning to conduct research. “While there are some things you can do [remotely], there are a lot of things you miss out on – if you are not doing research related to COVID … you haven’t been doing anything,” Liu said. “There are a lot of junior faculty, postdocs and graduate students for whom this ramp down period has put a major pause on their careers, so being able to ramp back up to ensure some continuity for them is going to be very important.” 

At Cleveland State University in northeast Ohio, there are similar plans in place, though on a smaller scale. About 20 CSU research scientists will return to their labs on May 30, along with postdocs and graduate students.

That will mark the first phase of a multi-step plan to “repopulate” campus, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs Jianping Zhu wrote to the campus community.   Undergraduates are not yet allowed back in the labs.

“As Cleveland’s only urban public research university, CSU’s commitment to research is central to our role as an anchor and beacon institution for Northeast Ohio,” Zhu wrote. “This initial reopening of our research labs, in a carefully planned manner and with safety and health foremost, sets us on a path to continue that commitment.”

Returning researchers will be required to wear face masks and follow social distancing, hand washing and surface cleaning protocols.

Zhu also noted that the university is working to stabilize research funding as the labs reopen, and the ability to resume in-person research could heavily impact those projects. “We are working with our legislative team, elected officials and grant funders to explore avenues to help ensure grant continuation and renewal, as well as other options to compensate for lost resources from the pandemic and ensure continuity and completion of current research projects,” Zhu wrote. Sources: https://www.cleveland.com/news/2020/05/cleveland-state-university-will-reopen-research-labs-may-30.html and https://emorywheel.com/summer-research-to-restart-campus-buildings-to-undergo-limited-opening/

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Planning and Assessment for Safely Re-Opening On-Campus Tech Transfer Office Operations


By David Schwartz
Published: May 25th, 2020

The transition to off-campus, remote working environments came swiftly and without the luxury of much advanced planning for many TTOs. Now, just as staff get comfortable in their new daily routines, federal and state governments are eager to re-open the country and get back to “normal.” Research labs are beginning non-essential work again, plans for the fall semester are coming into focus, and TTOs faces the difficult challenge of determining when and how to resume on-campus activity — and what that should look like as safety guidelines, research activity, and budget issues evolve.

To help inform and guide you, Tech Transfer Central’s Distance Learning Division has teamed up with TTO directors from three universities facing vastly different pandemic impacts and issues – MIT, University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, and University of Nebraska. They will discuss the ongoing effects of the shutdown on their TTOs, their assessments and plans for transitioning back to campus, and what the future holds for their universities, their offices, their staff, and the faculty, students, and other stakeholders they serve. Join us for this insightful and critically important webinar: Planning and Assessment for Safely Re-Opening On-Campus Tech Transfer Office Operations, scheduled for June 24th. For complete program and faculty details and to register, click here.

Also coming soon:

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Northern Michigan U campaign helps local businesses address COVID-19 challenges


By David Schwartz
Published: May 25th, 2020

A detailed article on the NMU “Wildcats Mean Business” campaign appears in the May issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription details, click here.

It started out as a neat little community campaign from the Northern Michigan University corporate engagement office to help local businesses suffering from disruptions due to the COVID crisis. It ended up with several parallel initiatives, expanding beyond its Marquette, MI, beginnings and including major corporate players like Cisco.

The initial campaign, called “The Wildcats Mean Business,” was designed to encourage the NMU and Marquette community to support businesses sponsoring NMU events as well as local businesses owned by alumni. “Generally, like most academic institutions, COVID has impacted everyday life,” says Dave Nyberg, director of corporate engagement at NMU.

Once the dust started settling on the severe disruption caused by COVID-19, Nyberg realized that not only was NMU facing the challenge, but corporate partners in communities across Michigan and beyond were as well. “We had a casual conversation about what we could do, what we could control,” he shares. “It was as simple as, ‘Let’s promote Wildcats businesses.’ They have been steadfast sponsors of programs, events, and academic scholarships. The president thought it was a great idea, so I said I’d send an e-mail to the community.”

That initial effort encourage the community, faculty and staff to support these businesses any way they could — through gift cards, takeout orders, or perhaps volunteering for a COVID-19 business promotion.

The next step in that evolution involved the Innovate Marquette SmartZone (Invent@NMU), which provides low- or no-cost services to businesses with innovation ideas. The services are provided by student teams mentored by upper classmen and staff.

“We sat down and thought about how we could help — what to do with our pool of professional and student resources, and it came down to small business,” says Nicole Johnson, marketing manager for Invent@NMU. “Just about everyone on our management team has a loved one or a friend who has a small business and can see a direct impact.”

What services could they provide for free? “Uploading online positions — we can do that fairly easily; a quick auditing of the marketing messaging, creating social media presence, landing pages, and so on,” says Johnson.

“We’re helping with websites, showing businesses how to set up them up and maintain them, how to make Zoom calls, and so on,” she continues. “We want to make sure small business owners can be successful in the future, not knowing how long we’re going to have to be digital. Because there are so many website platforms, people just get overwhelmed. We want to bridge that gap and make things a little easier for them.”

“Some of these ideas snowballed,” adds Nyberg. “We had recently become an academic partner with the Cisco Academic Academy — which happened at exactly the right time. In conversations with Cisco reps we learned they had a number of free courses to offer us, so we could offer them in turn to local businesses.” The courses, he says, include an introduction to cyber security, and a business entrepreneurship class. All of them are online, self-paced, with labs and associated activities.

“It’s amazing that you can get such good content for free,” says Nyberg. “We opened it up to everybody…. We released it to the alumni association and more folks through marketing, and now we have over 140 people signed up for these courses — with some signing up for four or five.”

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Purdue and Microsoft partner to create tool to assess COVID’s impact on research


By David Schwartz
Published: May 25th, 2020

Purdue University is partnering with Microsoft on a tool designed to get a better understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting research efforts. The university says the application provides researchers with data that quantifies the financial impact caused by the pandemic, which could potentially be used to secure additional relief funding to support affected projects. continue reading »

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U Chicago Medicine receives $10M gift for cancer research


By David Schwartz
Published: May 25th, 2020

University of Chicago Medicine has received a $10 million gift from a Chicago-area investor to fund research for cellular therapy used to fight certain types of cancer.

David Jonas, CEO of JVC Investment Partners, a firm that invests in early stage and middle-market health care companies, is funding the research, which will take place at what will now be name the David and Etta Jonas Center for Cellular Therapy, after Jonas and his late wife. continue reading »

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NSF looks to fund new industry-university research consortia through IUCRC program


By David Schwartz
Published: May 25th, 2020

The National Science Foundation has launched a new website for its Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers program (https://iucrc.nsf.gov/), and has also released a new solicitation for additional IUCRC proposals with a deadline of July 7 for preliminary proposals. continue reading »

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Best Practices in University Research and Tech Transfer Compliance


By David Schwartz
Published: May 25th, 2020

When it comes to matters of regulatory compliance in research, there is no room for error. Fortunately, strong education and airtight monitoring systems can prevent the damaging consequences of non-compliance that can result in a black mark on your university’s reputation – as well as its future research funding.

That’s why we’ve created the Best Practices in University Research and Tech Transfer Compliance distance learning collection. The collection consists of three distance learning programs, complete with all original program materials, filled with expert compliance guidance related to the Bayh-Dole Act, reporting guidelines for iEdison, and SBIR/STTR funding regulations. These programs are supplied as on-demand video with print transcripts that you can share with staff for at-home education. It’s a great addition to your training library you can use over and over again.

The three programs included are:

  • Bayh-Dole Compliance Check-up: Effectively Address the Challenge of Complacency
  • Maintaining Compliance with iEdison: A Practical Guide for Universities
  • Avoid SBIR/STTR Fraud and Abuse Allegations in University Research

Click here for complete details.

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Miami U of Ohio enters collaboration with PsyBio to produce synthetic psilocybin for mental health treatments


By David Schwartz
Published: May 25th, 2020

Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and PsyBio Therapeutics Inc. are collaborating to develop a new class of molecules to treat mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance dependency.

Miami U has inked a two-year sponsored research deal with PsyBio to advance a platform technology that enables the biosynthesis of psilocybin and other psychoactive molecules that occur naturally in certain plants and fungi. Additionally, Miami has granted PsyBio a global exclusive license to the technology generated from such research.

PsyBio is pioneering the next generation of psychoactive compounds, called tryptamines, which are being studied to reverse the course of disease by rewiring the brain through contemplation and a change of perception. Many tryptamine compounds, also known as psychedelics, hallucinogens, and entheogens, have been receiving international recognition for their therapeutic potential. These compounds act on and increase synaptic and neurotransmitter activity in the brain region responsible for stimulating the reward system.

Tryptamines are documented as drugs of low abuse potential and minimal lethal consequences in comparison to substances such as morphine, cocaine, and alcohol. There are currently dozens of clinical trials dosing psychedelic-inspired medications and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment capital financing the industry.

“We are excited to be working in collaboration with such a prestigious research university,” stated PsyBio CEO Evan Levine. “PsyBio Therapeutics was launched in response to the growing unmet medical need and demand to offer a new paradigm for the treatment of mental health issues and other healthcare challenges. The therapeutic candidates that we are developing are intended to heal the patient and treat the disease, in comparison to many drugs on the market that only address the symptoms and not the underlying cause.”

“Our collaboration with PsyBio Therapeutics will enable us to not only speed up the development of new bioactive compounds in the lab, but also facilitate the realization of our ultimate goal — the commercial development of a pharmaceutical product that can help those struggling with mental health disorders,” added Dr. J. Andrew Jones, who led the technology’s development and also serves as the Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board at PsyBio.

Through novel application of pathway optimization and metabolic engineering principles, Jones and his team of students discovered a way to sustainably produce promising drug candidates by genetically engineered bacteria. In the case of tryptamines, the technology removes major barriers to mass production. Source: https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/05/22/2037582/0/en/Miami-University-Researchers-Collaborate-with-PsyBio-Therapeutics-to-Biosynthetically-Produce-Psilocybin-the-Psychedelic-Ingredient-in-Magic-Mushrooms-and-Other-Psychoactive-Drug-C.html

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Purdue Research Park lands Yajima as new tenant and research partner


By David Schwartz
Published: May 25th, 2020

The Purdue Research Park has landed a new tenant, and a new resident source of industry partnership, in Yajima Industry Company Ltd., a Japanese maker of specialty lightweight automotive and aerospace products and components. The company is a supplier to Subaru of Indiana Automotive Inc., and the new location will be the base for newly established Yajima USA. continue reading »

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Iowa State’s partnership with Deere a model of long-term strategic collaboration


By David Schwartz
Published: May 18th, 2020

A detailed article on the ISU partnership with Deere appears in the May issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription details, click here.

There are many successful university-industry relationships across the country, but it’s likely there are few that check as many of the collaboration “boxes” as the one between Iowa State University and its industry partner, heavy equipment maker Deere & Co. Here are just a few examples:

  • Deere has employed close to 2,000 Iowa State alumni;
  • At any one time, about 20 faculty members from different disciplines interface with Deere;
  • A significant number of interns and full-time employees are hired by Deere each year;
  • Research collaborations are ongoing in multiple units.

This longstanding and comprehensive partnership also includes capstone projects, Deere participation in college and department advisory councils, and philanthropic contributions.

And in recent years, Deere has committed to significant co-location at Iowa State, including the opening of a technology innovation center in 2018 and an engineering research facility in 2019, both in the university’s research park.

Beyond what is already in place, a team consisting of numerous university departments and Deere representatives has been discussing strategic initiatives covering the next five to 10 years. They include:

  • Increasing diversity in STEM areas;
  • Long-range workforce development (IT, automation, data science);
  • More extensive research collaboration in key areas like cybersecurity, manufacturing systems engineering, and precision farming.

“This is one of our longest running partnerships — as a whole, about 25 years,” reports Matthew Darr, PhD, professor and Kinze Manufacturing Fellow. “We’ve had a master agreement in place since 2006, which tells you the depth of the relationship; it’s more than just a one-off.”

Darr sees the relationship as a “win-win” for the university and its industrial partner, and one that “checks every box we consider” when seeking industry engagement. “It allows us to help contribute to innovation and projects, a direct opportunity to have positive impact on stakeholders globally, and also leads to a lot of unique opportunities for our students — like internships and full career opportunities,” he says. “Also, Deere is involved in the classrooms — they serve as a voice to make sure we’re teaching the right material and offering the right content. And they’re there to put resources in the classroom as well.”

Darr does not see such partnerships as being defined by giant steps. “We really believe partnerships are built brick by brick,” he says. “We communicate with Deere very frequently through direct projects we’re involved in, but at least on a quarterly basis we touch base to make sure we’re in good alignment.”

Strong, regular communication, he continues, is key. “We listen to each other, we think about how things we’re doing will impact each other, and we always take feedback on ways we can improve or help the partner connect in an even deeper way,” says Darr. “It’s rare that we jump to some big major outcome; success is based on 1,000 little wins adding up to long-term strengths.”

The classroom environment, he continues, is a prime example. “Universities do not offer courses because one company says they should, but Deere has been very helpful talking to us and communicating about the direction their business is going, and the types of people they are looking for today and in the future,” Darr shares. “We really value that; they have insight, and we have the ability to shift gears to make sure we create the right people for those long-term jobs.”

Another “brick,” he adds, involves working together on the diversity/inclusion initiative. “We want to recruit a very diverse set of students on campus, and they want to recruit very diverse career employees; we mutually benefit by partnering in those areas,” states Darr.

He cautions against understating the importance of that philosophical connection. “Industry partners find lots of talented people at many universities,” Darr concedes. “We’ve surveyed our partners, and it always comes back to the people — not the expertise. Are there shared values? Similar passions? That’s what drives the strength of a partnership.”

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Webinar this Thursday: How to build out your virtual engagement platforms


By David Schwartz
Published: May 18th, 2020

This is the time establish dynamic engagement tools and technologies outside the conventional confines of in-person events and meetings.

The pandemic has brought events, networking and relationship-building forums to a grinding halt. But this new reality presents TTOs and industry engagement offices with an opportunity to build and scale virtual engagement platforms that can not only be critical in the current crisis, but in the future as a means of enhancing resiliency, expanding outreach, and actually improving your ability to connect.

By adopting best practices in virtual engagement, you can keep your marketing efforts, outreach programs, and partnering initiatives moving forward. To help, Tech Transfer Central has teamed up with a panel of six experts, led by Northeastern University’s Tracey Dodenhoff, who will explore approaches to integrating virtual engagement strategies that can serve your urgent needs for continued outreach while deepening connections within your current ecosystem, scaling your ecosystem presence, and ensuring greater resiliency for the future. Join us on May 21st for Virtual Engagement Strategies for TTOs: Scaling Up Online Connectivity Now and Building Future Resiliency. For complete details and to register, click here.

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Two more researchers arrested for improper ties to China


By David Schwartz
Published: May 18th, 2020

Two more researchers affiliated with U.S. research institutions have been arrested and charged with wire fraud and other crimes related to improper and unreported ties to the Chinese government. The arrests are just the latest in the federal government’s ongoing crackdown on foreign influence and potential fraud and espionage targeting research institutions across the country.

In one case, a University of Arkansas professor is facing wire fraud charges for failing to disclose “close ties” with the Chinese government. Simon Saw-Teong Ang, 63, of Fayetteville, is accused of failing to disclose ties to China’s government and Chinese companies after applying for and receiving grant money from NASA. 

“These materially false representations to NASA and the University of Arkansas resulted in numerous wires to be sent and received that facilitated Ang’s scheme to defraud,” according to Charlie Robbins with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Arkansas. If convicted, Ang faces a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison. 

The University of Arkansas released the following statement is response to Ang’s arrest: “Simon Ang has been suspended without pay from his responsibilities with the university and the university is actively cooperating with the federal investigation in this matter.”

Ang has been employed by U Arkansas since 1988 and served as director of the High Density Electronics Center (HiDEC). Since 2013, Ang has been either the primary investigator or co-investigator on federally funded grant contracts totaling more than $5 million. 

The criminal complaint shows emails between Ang and another researcher that suggest Ang worked to keep his ties with the Chinese government a secret from the school, implicating China’s “Thousand Talents Program” as behind the scheme to bring foreign research to Chinese universities. 

Almost simultaneously, the FBI arrested Cleveland Clinic Foundation researcher Qing Wang , who they say received more than $3.6 million in grants from the NIH while also collecting money for the same research from the same Chinese government program. Wang, a U.S. citizen,  was charged with wire fraud and making false claims.

“This is not a case of simple omission,” said FBI Cleveland Special Agent in Charge Eric Smith. Rather, the FBI alleges that Wang knowingly withheld information that he was employed and served as Dean of the College of Life Sciences and Technology at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

“Dr. Wang deliberately failed to disclose his Chinese grants and foreign positions and even engaged in a pervasive pattern of fraud to avoid criminal culpability,” Smith said. Cleveland Clinic says it is cooperating with federal authorities. Sources: https://www.npr.org/2020/05/14/856540244/former-cleveland-clinic-researcher-allegedly-failed-to-disclose-ties-to-china and https://www.5newsonline.com/article/news/local/ua-professor-chinese-government/527-86c471d0-f69e-4138-8786-a348c29b38df

Tech Transfer Central has teamed up with UT-Austin’s Export Control Officer and Export Compliance Counsel David Ivey for the critically important distance learning program Navigating Foreign Relationships and Reporting Requirements in University Research. You’ll get a solid plan of action for both policy and real-world practice from a compliance veteran. Click here for complete details.

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