Random Ramblings about stuff I see going on in biotech, internet and the stuff I read.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

AUTM meeting

I was just at the AUTM meeting in San Francisco. For those not "in the know" AUTM is the association of university technology managers. Basically the tech transfer office, although I learned there is quite a bit more to it than that.

I served on a panel at the meeting on the first day, which was interesting, and then through out the meeting popped up at a variety of sessions and failed to keep my mouth shut.

The main things I took from the meeting.

  • A question was asked by our industry panel on the first day of "What is the University tech transfer offices mission?". I can now say, having sat through many sessions, that every one of the offices has a seperate mission. Many are partly over lapping, and they all have some core in common but there are some pretty big differences. Some places are just tech transfer. Nothing more or less. Others have a mandate to do local area development. i.e. serve as an economic stimulator for the local economy. Others are deeply involved in building translation facilties to really make the technology come out of the university in a way that is much closer to early stage industry work. Much spread. This really does drive me to start asking a series of questions now when I deal with them - starting with "what is your goal". I had been operating on the assumption that it was to license out technology. Now understand that they may, and likely do, have other goals.
  • The tech transfer people really have no clue about industry trends. This was highlighted on the second day when the harvard guy was talking about the fact that Harvard is building a facility to do hit screening on compounds and pointed out that Pharma is moving away from that early stage discovery and has been looking to biotech to do that work. Biotech, under pressure from VC's, has been moving away from that slowly. I would say the Harvard guy was right, and as he and I talked about afterwards (he knew this) it has been going on in Pharma this way for several years. The surprising bit was the number of other people in the room who came from large research institutes who did NOT know this fact and had been wondering why Pharma wanted to pay much less for early stage targets.
  • The decision process within many tech transfer offices on how to pursue patents is NOT driven by what could, today, be licensable. Specifically, many folks were talking about licencing gene panels for diagnostics. This is something I am very interested in doing. They all said "Can't be done" and no one will pay for it. They based this on "the head of the office saying so". My response of "it can be done, and we have done it, and I will pay for it" surprised them. My follow up of once you put it in the public domain you likely kill the market also surprised them.
  • There are a lot of old white guys in charge....and a lot of woman not in charge. This was probably most clearly show cased by the fact that they gave everyone a free neck tie. Leaving aside the lack of color coordination that my tie had, it is not a very useful gift for a woman. You can make as assumption that she can give it to a significant other if you want to move to a new, and higher, level of sexism. I leave that as an exercise to the reader but I do think it wasn't well done.
  • You can't carry bottle openers on a plane. For serving on a panel I was given a wine bottle carrier and a bottle opener. I didn't even look in the bag and just put it in my luggage to carry home. The security guy at the airport was not that understanding...
BUT - the biggest take home message that I got from it was that industry and tech transfer offices really need to do more to understand each other. The things I go through were alien to them. The time pressures, the reason for IP etc.... they sort of got but not so much. On the other side, there was quite a bit that they go through that I don't get. The local development impetus - the number of people who have to sign off, the control from the state/local government were all things that I didn't fully apreciate.

Overall, a really good meeting. Hoping I didn't burn bridges, but I do have a big mouth....

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