Drug research exemplifies the kind of expenses that require university help obtaining grants and private investment.

“You can get it to work in a mouse model, but it’s going to take $800 million to take and run with,” Sunleaf said.

As a doctor specializing in unusual and advanced cancers, Hohl struggled with prescribing costly drugs that he feared might bankrupt patients. With Terpenoid Therapeutics, he suddenly had his own window on the costs of drug development.

Hohl said one thing the UI Research Foundation did that really helped Terpenoid Therapeutics was to bring in an outside consultant to assess the patentability of the company’s potential intellectual property and help the company’s founders transform abstract notions into tangible product ideas.

All the UI assistance to a private company could be a sensitive issue to taxpayers, Hohl said, but it is critical for the technology to be commercialized and the state to reap economic benefits. As faculty members, Hohl and Neighbors would not have the time other entrepreneurs might to set up a company.

Just researching and filing for patent protection can cost from $10,000 to $100,000 for a discovery, Sunleaf explained.

ISU historically has eclipsed all other Iowa universities in tech commercialization.

That’s largely because ISU’s research strengths in plant genetics and engineering play to Iowa’s economic strengths in agriculture and manufacturing, explained Randy Pilkington, executive director of business and community services at the University of Northern Iowa.

“It’s more based toward what can happen in Iowa,” Pilkington said.

Pilkington said UI is improving, but “Iowa State has a long history. ISU is a renowned agricultural and engineering college.”

ISU also has the benefit of close research ties to two major federal laboratories, according to Sharon Quisenberry, ISU’s vice president of regional and economic development for the past three years.

Ames is home to the Ames National Laboratory of the Department of Energy and the National Animal Disease Center of the USDA. Its status as Iowa’s land grant university also gave it more of a mission to work in economic development and regional service, Quisenberry said.

Add your opinion to the discussion.