Industry-Sponsored Research Week

Russia is accused of hacking into coronavirus vaccine research


By David Schwartz
Published: July 21st, 2020

The U.S., UK, and Canadian governments last week accused a sophisticated Russia-backed hacking group of trying to steal research data and IP related to coronavirus vaccine development, calling out the Kremlin in an unusual public warning to scientists and medical companies.

They alleged that the hacking group APT29, also known as Cozy Bear, is attacking academic and pharmaceutical company research into a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The alleged culprit is the same group implicated in the hacking of Democratic e-mail accounts during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

It is still unclear whether any useful information was stolen. Similar allegations have been made in the past against Russia, China, and other bad actors, but the latest warning was remarkable for its level of detail, naming the hacking group and specifying the software vulnerabilities the hackers have been exploiting.

Also, Russian cyberattacks strike a particular nerve in the U.S. given the Kremlin’s sophisticated campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election. And the coordination of the new warning across continents seemed designed to add heft and gravity to the announcement and to prompt the Western targets of the hackers to protect themselves. John Hultquist, senior director of analysis at Mandiant Threat Intelligence, said the report warning of the hacking efforts “is full of specific operational information that defenders can use” to protect their networks.

Russia has denied involvement in the hacks.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency had previously warned that cybercriminals were targeting COVID-19 research, noting that the increase in people teleworking due to the pandemic had created potential avenues for hackers to exploit. Profit-motivated criminals have exploited the situation, and so have foreign governments “who also have their own urgent demands for information about the pandemic and about things like vaccine research,” said Tonya Ugoretz, a deputy assistant director in the FBI’s cyber division.

The alert did not name the targeted organizations or say how many labs and companies were affected. But it did say the goal was to steal information and intellectual property related to vaccine development. A 16-page advisory accuses Cozy Bear of using malware programs called WellMess and WellMail. “[T]he group conducted basic vulnerability scanning against specific external IP addresses owned by the organizations. The group then deployed public exploits against the vulnerable services identified,” the advisory said.

Source: AP News

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Combatting Heightened Cybersecurity Risks to University-Based IP Due to Remote Work


By David Schwartz
Published: July 21st, 2020

The pandemic has impacted university tech transfer and research operations in ways never before contemplated, including staff working remotely and accessing electronically managed documents, personal and patient data, research results, patent information, and more. New revelations regarding Russian hacking efforts into coronavirus research have added urgency to university efforts to guard their IP.

Each log-in represents a cybersecurity risk, and bad actors are looking to take advantage of this opportunity to steal and sell critical research and intellectual property. To protect your institution and its confidential research assets, a new level of effort and expertise is required. That’s why Tech Transfer Central  has teamed up with a world expert on university cybersecurity from Baker Tilly to offer this critical webinar: Combatting Heightened Cybersecurity Risks to University-Based IP Due to Remote Work, scheduled for August 20th.

Mike Cullen, Baker Tilly’s higher education and research institution cybersecurity and IT leader, will teach you the IT and cybersecurity risks and requirements associated with research activity, and how to apply them to your institution’s policies, processes, and remote workforce so you can be confident in the security of your valuable IP and research.

Enroll Now

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COVID-19 NERF helps generate new agreements with corporate partners


By David Schwartz
Published: July 21st, 2020

A detailed article on how a new Non-Exclusive Royalty Free licensing effort related to COVID-19 has brought new industry relationships and partnering activity forward appears in the July issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For complete subscription details, click here.

There has been an understandable surge of interest on the part of industry to partner with universities in new research connected with the COVID-19 virus. Now several universities employing a new NERF made available in April and specifically designed to make such agreements more attractive and with less negotiating time say it’s leading to even more — and faster — collaborations with industry partners.

The COVID-19 Technology Access Framework, created through a collaboration of the Harvard Office of Technology Development, the Technology Licensing Office at MIT, and Stanford University Office of Technology Licensing, was designed “to incentivize the mobilization of lifesaving innovations and resources during a time of urgent need,” said Harvard Chief Technology Development Officer Isaac Kohlberg in a statement announcing the new agreement model. (More than 20 additional institutions have since signed on to the “Framework.”)

The Framework’s guidelines “provide for non-exclusive, royalty-free licensing of intellectual property rights for most types of technologies during the pandemic and for a short period afterward.” Licensees are expected to distribute the resulting products as widely as possible and at a low cost that allows for broad accessibility.

As for generating industry interest, the NERF appears to have done the trick. “Suffice to say we are busier than ever including an interesting intersection of SRAs coupled with the COVID-19 NERF on background IP to enable commercial use for a period of time,” reports Lesley Millar-Nicholson, director of the TLO at MIT.

“Commercialization of Harvard technologies that could assist with the pandemic has been the top priority for our office this spring and summer, in accordance with our Framework commitments and the round-the-clock efforts of Harvard faculty and researchers to meet the urgent need,” adds Caroline M. Perry, director of communications in the Harvard Office of Technology Development. “To date, under this Framework, we have completed six licenses and have at least half a dozen others pending; these licenses collectively pertain to innovations in various types of COVID-19 diagnostics and testing materials/devices.”

And Jim Roberts, a tech licensing officer at MIT, can specifically point to at least one SRA he contends was made possible through the NERF. “Having this NERF available helped us reach an agreement much faster and get the sponsored research going on a much timelier basis than if we had tried to negotiate an exclusive license to the entire platform,” he reports.

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Law firm says China’s Thousand Talents Program exposes new risks for universities


By David Schwartz
Published: July 21st, 2020

Attorneys from JD Supra have issued an advisory regarding university faculty involvement in China’s Thousand Talents Plan, while also recommending specific steps for compliance with federal laws and regulations.

The advisory points out that there are more than 200 talent recruitment programs in China, though Thousand Talents the most prominent. The focus among universities, the firm advises, should be on compliance given the enforcement activity among federal agencies including the Department of Justice.

In a recent report on China’s talent recruitment programs and their use as conduits to university IP, the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations stated that “U.S. universities . . . must take responsibility in addressing this threat. If U.S. universities can vet employees for scientific rigor or allegations of plagiarism, they can also vet for financial conflicts of interests and foreign source funding.”

The JD Supra advisor notes that “in the current environment, it is more important than ever for universities to implement effective compliance programs,” noting the just last month DOJ updated its Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs guidance, which applies to universities.

They recommend a thorough assessment of university compliance programs, along with revisions to address the updated DOJ compliance guidance. The factors regulators will consider in assessing the program’s design include:

  • Are risks effectively identified, assessed, and addressed?
  • Are resources properly apportioned to respond to identified risks?
  • Are the policies, procedures, and controls (such as a code of conduct) readily available to faculty and staff?
  • Is there adequate training and communication regarding compliance requirements?
  • Are there confidential reporting mechanisms and methods to conduct investigations?

DOJ requires that the program be adequately resourced and empowered, the attorneys add. “This is the area where the DOJ compliance guide has changed the most, and universities should focus their assessment on these recent changes,” they note. “One of the primary considerations here is the role and participation of university leadership. The university presidents, vice presidents, chancellors, deans, and department heads need to set the tone by articulating the importance of compliance, ethics, and accountability.”

Another change is more emphasis on compliance personnel having “access to relevant sources of data,” both internal and external. The DOJ compliance guide also stresses the importance of maintaining consistent enforcement of clear disciplinary procedures throughout the organization.

The JD Supra attorneys note that tenured faculty represent a particular challenge when it comes to discipline, and should be considered by the university as part of its risk assessment.

A discovery of misconduct does not mean that a university’s compliance program is not effective, and DOJ will consider factors such as “whether and how the misconduct was detected, what investigation resources were in place to investigate suspected misconduct, and the nature and thoroughness of the [university’s] remedial efforts.” When problems are discovered, they must be remediated and changes implemented to avoid recurrence.

According to JD Supra, universities are “in the crosshairs” of foreign espionage efforts and face unprecedented risks. “A university’s failure to implement an effective compliance program could result in serious damage to academic reputation, diminished financial position, assessment of civil penalties (including False Claim Act penalties and treble damages), and possibly criminal punishment.”

Source: JD Supra

Risk Assessment and Reporting Requirements for Foreign Research Relationships is a new distance learning collection dedicated to improving your assessment strategies and compliance with federal reporting requirements. Click here for details.

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Walton family grants nearly $200M to U Arkansas to create new institute and build innovation culture


By David Schwartz
Published: July 21st, 2020

The University of Arkansas has been granted $194.7 million by the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation to, among other research-focused initiatives, will establish the University of Arkansas Institute for Integrative and Innovative Research (I3R). The massive gift, according to U of Arkansas officials, will transform the research, innovation and economic development culture of the university. The grant is one of the largest single private gifts ever given to a university for advancing research and economic development. continue reading »

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International Survey of Research University Leadership: View of Technology Transfer and Sponsored Research Offices


By David Schwartz
Published: July 21st, 2020

The International Survey of Research University Leadership: View of Technology Transfer and Sponsored Research Offices includes 70 pages of in-depth commentary and analysis based on extensive surveying of 53 colleges and universities.

This one-of-a-kind resource provides a rich set of benchmarks and data to compare against your own university’s technology transfer and sponsored research efforts. You’ll find detailed data on promoting technologies, staffing, budgets, managing patents, obtaining research grants, promoting technologies, incentivizing staff for IP creation, and publicizing research achievements, along with invaluable peer advice. This study is jam-packed with dozens of easy to scan charts and figures displaying critical data you can’t find in any other publication.

Click here for more details.

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Kansas State partners with South Korean drugmaker to develop African swine fever vaccine


By David Schwartz
Published: July 21st, 2020

Kansas State University is partnering with a South Korean veterinary medicine company in an attempt to create a vaccine against African swine fever. The disease is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa and has spread to different regions of Europe and Asia, causing devastating losses worth billions of dollars in China, Vietnam and other surrounding countries where pork is the most popular food item. continue reading »

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Schools band together to boost Kansas City-area innovation district


By David Schwartz
Published: July 21st, 2020

Nine universities and colleges in the Kansas City area have joined forces to accelerate innovation in what is called The Keystone Innovation District. They’ve just formed a Standing Committee for Research and Advanced Studies that will take “an unprecedented approach” by leveraging each school’s resources to advance interdisciplinary research, creative activities and corporate engagement throughout the region under one umbrella group. continue reading »

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U Queensland enters partnership with biotech company to commercialize treatment for Sjogren’s syndrome


By David Schwartz
Published: July 21st, 2020

The University of Queensland and global biotechnology company CSL Limited are partnering to develop a potential new treatment for autoimmune disease Sjogren’s syndrome. UQ’s technology transfer company UniQuest signed an agreement with CSL to develop and commercialize UQ’s antigen specific immune tolerance induction (ASITI) technology for the treatment of the immune system disorder, and potentially other illnesses as well. continue reading »

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Registration is open for UIDPConnect 2020


By David Schwartz
Published: July 21st, 2020

Registration is now open for UIDPConnect 2020, where attendees can remotely connect with colleagues and take advantage of the latest insights from more than 40 thought leaders speaking to today’s university-industry engagement challenges. 

The program, scheduled to run September 11-15, features fireside chats with speakers like Chris Austin, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences; Cherise Bernard, Spotify; and Karina Edmonds, SAP. Session topics include “Creative Approaches to Meeting Academic and Corporate Talent Needs–Joint Employment,” presented by Randy Hall, University of Southern California, and Daron Green, Facebook. Virtual breakouts will present real-world concepts in a new format, and Serendipity Sessions will allow eye-to-eye discussion with table mates and introduce a new way to network.

For complete agenda and registration details, click here.

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How to engage faculty in building university-industry partnerships


By David Schwartz
Published: July 14th, 2020

A detailed article on best practices for working collaboratively with faculty on industry partnerships appears in the June issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For complete subscription details, click here.

While clearly a critical part of any university-industry partnership, faculty researchers sometimes get short shrift in conversations about what makes these partnerships successful, with attention often focusing more globally on the university and its industry partner, and overarching strategies for sharing each other’s goals and meeting each other’s needs.

Perhaps it was at least partly in recognition of this reality that NACRO recently decided to host a webinar titled “Working with Faculty.” After all, many partnerships revolve around faculty involvement, or depend on it completely.

“A faculty member’s expertise is a critical component to a U-I partnership,” said webinar moderator Emily Kelton, assistant vice president of corporate and foundation relations at the Colorado School of Mines, who spoke with UIEA in a later interview. “The assumption is that the company needs this expertise or wants to be able to access students connected with the faculty member. If neither or these assumptions are fully true, a company may not tolerate working with a faculty member whose other constraints impact his or her ability to deliver as the company wants.”

“Without faculty there is no partnership period, good or bad,” adds Joonhyung Cho, director of business development in the UNC-Chapel Hill industry relations office. “They are the key ingredient.” 

Understanding just how time-constrained faculty are, the panel noted, is critical — both on campus and in industry. “As a tenured, research active faculty member I wear lots of hats,” said panelist Alexander Miller, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Time is a precious commodity,” Miller says. “On any given day, I might be teaching undergraduate or graduate courses, serving on departmental or university committees, and advising the nine graduate students, three postdocs, and two undergraduate students in my group. At times I also transform into a small business CEO, managing employees and research budgets for a portfolio of grants, or a salesperson writing compelling grants to support my group’s research. At any given time, I am writing about five articles to be published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Finally, I have undertaken Safe Zone and Mental Health First Aid training so that I can be as supportive an advisor and member of the university community as possible. Considering all of these different roles, new activities — like a new interaction with industry — should be a manageable time commitment and should feel like a worthwhile time investment.”

“I’m still a faculty member, I conduct research, and I teach, although that is more limited,” shared Steven K. Michelson, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University. “I have oversight of all faculty staff and students and oversee all the facilities. I typically meet weekly with each college leadership counsel. There are department leadership meetings, staff meetings weekly, and the faculty meets at least monthly.” He’s also involved with mentoring, hiring committees, interacting with student club officers, and assisting with grant proposals.

Michelson also spends about 10%-15% of his time on external outreach, which includes corporate partners and alumni. Mark Boeck, senior director of development-corporate relations at Iowa State, notes that this includes administration of the advisory council, visits to industry partners, hosting visitors, and providing tours of buildings and labs.

That workload is top of mind for Boeck, who fiercely protects his faculty members’ time. “When communicating with faculty and requesting an industry meeting, I want to identify the best faculty member, follow protocols within the organization, and hopefully not inundate them,” he told webinar participants. “I use the appropriate professional title, which shows respect, and concisely explain the purpose and potential outcomes. And I never assume they are as excited about this as I am; I frame it as an invite and try to make it easy for them. And I always say, ‘Thank you for considering the request.’”

“I prefer to be the first point of contact,” added Michelson. “I know who has the big workloads, and how much time they have. If I’m first in the department I can provide an overview, learn more about the company’s interests and needs, and see if more in-depth discussions are appropriate. I want protect the time of faculty members.”

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ExxonMobil research deal sparks backlash at Princeton


By David Schwartz
Published: July 14th, 2020

Last week, ExxonMobil and Princeton University’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment renewed a five-year research partnership as part of the center’s affiliates program. In the five years ending in June 2020, Princeton received more than $6 million in funding from the energy giant, which funded 29 faculty research projects, many of which centered on environmental issues and sustainability. continue reading »

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