The ability to harness new technologies, spur innovations and, in turn, grow companies and jobs, is the lifeblood of entrepreneurship. Life sciences, more than most industries, thrives on such positive momentum and hope for the future. The challenge lies in identifying and replicating the processes that facilitate swift movement of technology from the halls of academia to the front-line of American commerce and health care.
In 2003, the Kauffman Foundation convened the Panel of Advisors on the Life Sciences to investigate the role the Foundation might play in advancing life sciences entrepreneurship in a more systematic, practical way. The Foundation asked the panel, composed of leaders from both public and academic settings in the fields of medicine, public health, health policy, and venture capital, to provide a comprehensive set of recommendations for consideration. With the panel, the Foundation hopes to identify some of the common barriers to commercialization in the life sciences, determine how to overcome those barriers, and share the information broadly so that everyone within the life sciences - and beyond - can benefit. From the advisory panel's preliminary work, two central themes emerged:
- University technology transfer expertise and commercialization have not kept pace with the increase and breadth of research funding in recent years. More than 50 percent of the revenues from licenses in the life sciences is now clustered in just ten universities and is associated with a very small number of commercial products and services.
- Similarly, relative to total university population, there is a small number of universities where the organization and operation of technology transfer is optimal. There is widespread agreement that many technology transfer offices are under-funded, insufficiently staffed, and not an integral part of the university research enterprise.
Based on these themes, the panel identified several ways the Kauffman Foundation might play a role:
- Help generate a broad research dataset that establishes critical linkages along the discovery-to-commercialization continuum and begins to establish benchmarks for the field.
- Help strengthen professional organizations, working with them to raise the bar for the practice of technology transfer, attract an even higher caliber of professionals entering the field, and more effectively disseminate best practices.
- Work to identify key issues and challenges around technology transfer and commercialization, and help define appropriate national policies to strengthen the country's future in this area.
- Collaborate with such agencies as the National Institutes for Health and the Centers for Disease Control to review policies and practices, and identify ways to enhance their impact in technology transfer.
- Help establish a national organization with experienced, top-level professionals who understand each of the many facets of successful life sciences technology transfer. This group would help document effective practices, manage relevant processes, and provide the technical assistance needed to make technology transfer and commercialization happen better, faster, and with fewer obstacles.
While there are numerous ways the Kauffman Foundation might work to make a difference, we plan to begin with a modest agenda, continuing to evaluate opportunities that will offer the greatest potential for positively impacting life sciences entrepreneurship.