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New research VP hopes to increase UA's low science profits

By Brett Erickson
Arizona Summer Wildcat
August 9, 1999
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Arizona Summer Wildcat

UA research officials are hoping for a breakthrough invention and a more effective licensing office to bridge the large gap between royalties profits at the university and those of its peer institutions, said Richard Powell, newly-appointed vice president for research.

University of Arizona researchers and inventors are making substantially less total income from product marketing than members of their official peer institutions, said Frank Hartdegen, senior licensing agent for the UA Technology Transfer Office.

Hartdegen referred to an Association of University Technology Managers study compiled after each fiscal year.

But officials involved with the technology transfer process said the financial numbers do not necessarily reflect the university's efforts in marketing the work of its faculty.

Powell said the university has been successful in finding companies to provide the financial support for researchers. The problem is that no invention has resulted in a "home run" that would allow the UA to climb the financial charts and join their counterparts, he said.

"The number of royalty-bearing licenses that we have -- that puts us a lot higher than the amount (of money) coming in," Powell said. "Technology transfer takes one super-successful product."

Lacking a breakthrough invention, the UA is far behind its 15 official peer institutions in licensing royalties. From July 1, 1996 to June 30, 1997, UA researchers received $593,661 in royalties for their products that had been sold to outside businesses, according to the AUTM study.

During that same time period, researchers from the University of Florida raked in more than $18 million, primarily due to their earlier invention of Gatorade.

Michigan State University inventors also collected more than $18 million during fiscal year 1997. Most of those royalties were the result of Cis-Platin, a cancer drug used in chemotherapy treatment.

"They have one fantastic winner, which is why their number is so high," Hartdegen said.

Another reason the UA has lagged behind its peer institutions in royalty collections is related to their focus during the past decade. Powell said their goal was to increase the size of the technology transfer office, which eventually will allow the university to be more productive in marketing its researchers' work.

"We're not as high as we want to be -- we know that," Powell said.

Jerrold Hogle, UA faculty chairman, said the university is also restructuring the Committee on Technology Transfer in an attempt to improve inventor royalties. The committee advises Powell on how to transfer technology to outside companies, Hogle said.

The new committee will still have 14 faculty members, but they will be selected from a wider range of academic departments.

"You want to make sure the range of representatives is better than in the past," Hogle said.

No appointments have been made yet, but Hogle said he has already received several nominations for the new committee members.

Hartdegen, who has been with the Technology Transfer Office for three years, said he agrees with Powell that the UA did not have the necessary staff to successfully negotiate with businesses.

"Our office had been notoriously understaffed," he said. "We really didn't have anybody doing licensing for us."

The UA has corrected that problem by hiring two full-time licensing agents, he said.

Hartdegen said the university has marketed several products in recent years that could result in the coveted breakthrough invention.

One of these inventions is Zeneca, a crop that could dramatically affect the agricultural industry. Hartdegen said the crops could produce a greater yield of vitamin C.

Like any invention, however, only time will determine whether or not the business industry will accept the new product, he said.

"Certain things take a long time before they bring in royalty income," Hartdegen said.

Eugene Gerner, a UA professor of radiation oncology, has been working in the research field for 25 years. He said the relatively low royalties received by UA inventors is not due to the university short-changing its employees.

"The deal the university is cutting us is very fair," he said. "It is very much what we would be getting at our peer institutions."

Gerner said most of his colleagues are not involved in some type of research field to make a profit.

"The majority of the faculty that I know get attracted to the work because of the intellectual hook," he said.