Monday, July 12, 2010

A Harsh Spotlight on

the State's Top Research University?

Thomas Lee writes in MedCityNews:

Top bioscience lawmaker calls out
the University of Minnesota

Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-St. Paul) has good reason to feel a fresh spring in his step these days.

[We're not just talking about some mean old Republican here...]

He helped pass long over due tax credits for angel investors and research and development spending, a feat that earned him a prime spot (second from the left) behind Gov. Tim Pawlenty when the presumed Republican presidential candidate signed the bill and warm applause at events hosted by LifeScience Alley and the Minnesota High Tech Association.

But rather take a holiday, the chairman of the House Bioscience and Workforce development Committee has already selected his next target: the University of Minnesota.

“If I were you, I would pay attention to tech transfer,” Mahoney said during a recent phone call.

Despite some improvement in recent years, the university is still “terrible” at converting its research into viable companies, he said. So unless the university makes significant progress by the end of the year, Mahoney will introduce a bill that either privatizes tech transfer or calls for the university to hire a ” strong entrepreneurial” president that will “really shake up” the Office for Technology Commercialization (OTC).

Wow. Where to start? Lawmakers have long bashed the university’s tech transfer efforts, so that’s nothing new. But Mahoney’s ultimatum kind out of comes out of nowhere.

Under vice president for research Tim Mulcahy, the school has made progress, spinning out promising start-ups like Miromatrix Inc., boosting licensing income, and hosting technology showcases for potential investors.

Apparently, Mahoney is not impressed. Ironically, his chief complaint concerns one of OTC’s proudest reforms: the use of experienced “technology mangers” to determine whether the school should launch a company, license the research, or reject it all together.

OTC director Jay Schrankler and Venture Center chief Doug Johnson have long emphasized quality over quantity. The school’s goal is to spin out up to three potential “blockbusters” a year by carefully vetting the technologies in a thoughtful, systematic way to ensure success.

But that deliberate, painstaking process has made the university “too risk adverse,” Mahoney said.

In truth, Mahoney is not the only person out there unhappy with the school’s tech transfer efforts. Though Mahoney’s bill may ultimately go nowhere, it will shine a very harsh spotlight on the state’s top research university.


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