Administration

White House and Universities Tout Programs to Turn Research Into Products

September 16, 2011

As President Obama signed into law on Friday the new patent act, the White House and several dozen universities highlighted a series of program—some new, some not—designed to hasten the commercialization of university research findings.

Among the new: the creation of a center at the National Institutes of Health to assist biotechnology entrepreneurs to develop new products to diagnose and treat diseases. The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which has drawn some controversy, will provide scientific resources to researchers to help speed the time it takes to devise medicines and diagnostic tests.

The White House also promised to produce a plan, dubbed the National Biomedical Blueprint, that will outline national strategies for, among other things, greater training to "develop the next generation of scientists and engineers." The plan is due by January 2012.

The White House has been urging universities to improve their research-commercialization practices, as part of a larger national effort to create jobs. In conjunction with the bill-signing ceremony, the White House and two higher-education associations said more than 40 institutions had formally committed to expand their commercialization efforts, although it was hardly clear whether their particular moves—things like an informational Web site for industry partners at Rutgers University and a streamlined licensing process for start-up companies at the Georgia Institute of Technology—had come in response to the White House efforts or as part of universities' longstanding push in that direction.

As part of its announcement, the White House also touted the news that the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, which runs a well-regarded research-commercialization program, had chosen four universities to take part in its Translational Research Partnership program: the Johns Hopkins University and the Universities of Louisville, Missouri, and Pittsburgh.

In fact, the foundation has chosen six institutions for its new program. The fifth is the University of Southern California, and the sixth has yet to make the news public. Also, according to the foundation, the university partners in the new program will not be eligible for $20-millon endowments, as the White House described it in its announcement. But they will receive two-to-one matching grants to create a five-year, $5-million program to help pay for testing and similar work needed to turn ideas into products.