Iowa’s universities help pave the way for tech transfer

ISU had 47 patent applications filed in fiscal 2011, up 21 over 2010.

Technology transfer is big business.

2009, for example, was admittedly a difficult year for tech transfers in the United States, and licensing income dropped, according to MedCity News in citing an Association of University Technology Managers survey.

But the 181 tech transfer programs that responded to the survey — the association’s most recent — still claimed a combined $2.3 billion in income.

So in a nation increasingly obsessed with the need for innovation, tech transfer from university research labs into commercial products and services is on the front burner.

Iowa’s three Board of Regents universities help their faculty members obtain patents and sell or license those patents to companies. The activities generate big revenue streams for at least two of the universities — Iowa State University and the University of Iowa.

The universities also help their faculty and staff-related companies obtain state and federal grants for research and development, and provide them with economical lab or office space near campus.

The importance of tech transfer was highlighted during the recent selection of Iowa State University’s new president, Steven Leath, who takes office next month.

Regents President Craig Lang said Leath’s experience with research and technology transfer at the University of North Carolina “will be an invaluable resource in leading Iowa State and its many contributions to the state of Iowa, particularly for Iowa’s bioeconomy industry.”

At the University of Iowa, interest is heightened by the impending retirement of Jordan Cohen as vice president of research and economic development. UI has begun searching for the replacement of Cohen, the former Dean of the UI College of Pharmacy.

More technology commercialization at UI could mean more companies such as VIDA Diagnostics and Terpenoid Therapeutics, which spun out of research surrounding the UI’s College of Medicine and hospital.

VIDA Diagnostics was founded by four UI faculty who used an interdisciplinary approach to develop software that uses computer simulation and quantitative analysis of data from CT scans to assess the progress of cardiopulmonary diseases and recommend treatments.

The founders had a patent portfolio managed by the University of Iowa Research Foundation that provided the basis for its first Series A private funding round in 2007, VIDA Diagnostics CEO Susan Wood said.