Penn research commercialization quadruples over four years
Penn is 24th out of 157 universities in licensing revenue in fiscal year 2012
November 3, 2013, 9:40 pm·
In fiscal year 2011, Penn made $14 million from its research.
Research at the University has seen a rise in commercialization, meaning that it is monetized through business ventures like startup companies and licensing agreements with corporations. In 2012, the university held 186 commercialization agreements, compared to only 46 agreements in 2008.
John Swartley, deputy executive director of the Center for Technology Transfer, says that research commercialization at Penn is nothing new. “Penn has been pretty actively engaged in technology transfer for a pretty long time now,” he said, pointing out that CTT was formed in the ’80s.
He attributes part of the increase to corporate alliances, which is “where we’re starting to see a lot of growth at Penn.” This is evident at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, which lists 39 corporate partners on its website ranging from Walt Disney Productions to the Lockheed Martin Corporation.
Penn’s research commercialization is not unique among other higher education institutions. Penn ranks 24th in a list of 157 universities with the most licensing revenue for the fiscal year of 2012, according to the Association of University Technology Managers. Penn is the third highest-ranking Ivy League school after Columbia and Princeton universities. In comparison, Northwestern University ranked first, with a license income of about $191 million, about 1,330 percent greater than Penn’s license revenue of $14 million.
Swartley also ascribes the uptick in research commercialization to the decrease in federal funding for research in recent years. Due to the budget conflicts in Washington, “we’re put into a position where we have to aggressively seek additional sources of support.”
This growth in commercialization “diversifies the source of funds” for the University while potentially improving society. “It’s kind of a silver lining for a bad situation,” Swartley said.
The increase in commercialization agreements is also “due to some of the licensing activities of my predecessors,” Swartley says, since the process of development — especially in the biomedical sciences — take 10 years to come to fruition. He also cites UPstart, a program which has helped Penn faculty launch 50 companies, as a source of the increase.
Juxtapid is an example of one of these commercialization projects. Juxtapid is a drug that treats a rare genetic disorder and has brought at least $55 million in for Penn.
The University’s only policy regarding commercialized research is that it be published openly and conducted without conflict of interest issues.
Paulo Arratia, a professor in the Engineering School believes the commercialization of research benefits both the scientific community and society. “You can look at schools like Stanford that have huge programs in commercialization and the culture of start-up companies. That creates jobs around Silicon Valley, added comma that creates excitement and innovation. It does not mean they do not care about the fundamental science.”
However, some of those outside academics see the emphasis on research commercialization as hurting fundamental research, which often does not appear to have immediate applications. Victoria Doronina, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Manchester, recently wrote an op-ed in “The Scientist” decrying the push to monetize research at universities as “devaluing of the pursuit of knowledge as a life goal.”
At Penn, the increase in commercialization agreements aligns with President Amy Gutmann’s renewed strategies in “Penn Compact 2020.” Gutmann is developing a “Pennovation Center” at the South Bank campus where professors and students will be able to translate their research into business ventures.
Swartley said the benefit of research commercialization is not solely economic. “We almost have a moral obligation to connect our research with [corporate] developmental capabilities.”