ECONOMIC ENGINE THAT COULD
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Not only do companies come to UCLA for continuing education, they also come for access to research and to license patents. Last year, the university was awarded $655 million in research grants, the third-highest amount in the country, behind only Johns Hopkins and MIT, respectively.
Andrew Neighbour is director of UCLA's Office of Research Administration, which manages the university's portfolio of patents. "A good portion of licensing is done by companies that read about ongoing research and approach the university asking to license the technology," he says. "Our researchers create things, and then they need to protect and commercialize their inventions. To do that, they need to partner with private industry."
The nicotine patch is one of UCLA's patent-licensing success stories and of tremendous economic benefit to the companies that sell it. In the pipeline, and likely to be important to both the university and to the licensees, are a large number of inventions, including an intracranial aneurysm stent that will save many stroke victims in the future, and a new vaccine for tuberculosis.
While some companies come to UCLA seeking to capitalize on the university's intellectual property, the university itself has also been responsible for the creation of companies. "When you license technology to a new company, you are in effect creating that company to address a new market," says Neighbour.
According to Neighbour, universities nationwide last year generated about 350 new companies, with a total estimated economic activity from technology transfer of about $40 billion. There were a total of about 12,000 new inventions from universities last year, and about 400 products were developed.
In late 1996, a group of physicians, oncologists and scientists at UCLA formed what is now Agensys Inc., a company that is working to discover new therapies for cancer. The new company licensed five patents from the university and used those licenses to raise $8 million in its first round of financing. Says Donald Rice, president and CEO of Agensys: "You've got to have something in hand that people can invest in, besides just an idea." The company today has about 40 employees and could go public within two to three years.
Breast-cancer specialist Susan Love M.B.A. '98 founded ProDuct Health Inc. in 1997 in partnership with an engineer. While a faculty member at UCLA, Love invented a catheter and technique for its use that has led to a greatly improved diagnostic procedure for breast cancer. Her company licensed the patents from UCLA and developed them commercially; they are now being used clinically around the country.