Technology transfer: vital support or roadblock to commercialisation?

by Tony Raven

The efficacy of university technology transfer offices (TTO) has long been a subject of debate. Perhaps today more than ever with some critics arguing that TTO offices are a roadblock to commercialisation.

To help explain the complex role of TTO offices across the UK, the knowledge transfer offices of Cambridge (Cambridge Enterprise), Edinburgh, Imperial, Oxford, Manchester and UCL have collaborated to produce a briefing paper called “UK University Technology Transfer: behind the headlines.”

It tackles questions like “what are the advantages of working with a TTO?” to more complex issues such as “Are UK universities any good at technology transfer?”

The answer, says the report, is a resounding ‘yes,’ noting that the UK has a higher level of engagement with industry through licensing than US universities, when adjusted for research income. Many global companies and investors cite the UK as one of the best places in the world to form and scale-up new companies.

“Are UK universities any good at technology transfer?”

TTO: behind the headlines

Success stories in the report include several from Cambridge Enterprise – such as our work with University spin-out XO1 and its development of the drug ichorcumab, an antibody that is a potent anti-thrombotic but does not cause bleeding. XO1 was acquired recently by Janssen Pharmaceuticals (of Johnson & Johnson). If the drug is successful, it could potentially save millions of lives.

And Solexa. Sequencing the first human genome was a $3 billion global project. Today, thanks to University spin-out Solexa, from the Department of Chemistry, and £100k in seed Fund investment from Cambridge Enterprise, genome sequencing costs as little as $1,000 per genome. Solexa was acquired in 2007 for $600 million by San Diego-based Illumina, which today has approximately 80% of the world market share of gene and genome sequencing technology.

The paper addresses frequently asked questions and is intended to be a useful resource for government, industry and other sectors that interact with university TTOs.

I encourage you to read the report.

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