Merck. Dow Chemical. Conventional wisdom in the university
technology transfer business has long been that steady royalties
are more likely to come from well-established companies.
And for much of its history, the University of Florida has
followed that path. Gatorade, for example, is owned by PepsiCo.
The university licensed its successful glaucoma drug, Trusopt,
to pharmaceutical giant Merck. And the Sentricon termite control
system went to DowElanco, a division of Dow Chemical.
as the university has expanded efforts to commercialize its
technologies, it also needed a strategy for inventions that
are not quite ready for prime time.
“Many major corporations have chosen to let smaller
start-ups lay the groundwork for new technologies, with an
eye toward acquiring the most successful of those companies,”
says David Day, director of UF’s Office of Technology
Licensing, or OTL. “Our job is to ensure that those
start-ups get the expertise and financial capital they need
UF Vice President for Research Win Phillips says he quickly
realized after taking office in 2000 that OTL needed to be
beefed up to adequately serve the university’s research
“The university’s research enterprise has grown
dramatically over the past decade, and our efforts to move
research from the laboratory to the market have to keep pace,”
says Phillips, who has overseen a tripling of the OTL staff.
“Now we have more people out there in the colleges identifying
promising technologies and making them successful.”
a larger staff and a more business-oriented approach, the
university has completed more than 150 license agreements
in the last three years, compared to only 25 in 2000 and just
eight in 1999. In addition, invention disclosures are up 38
percent since 2001 and licenses generating income are up 41
“The university has become extremely involved in helping
young companies like mine find management and money,”
says Ron Marks, a UF professor of biostatistics and founder
of a company called Clinipace that has developed an electronic
clinical trials management system. “In our case, they
have helped us find a management team and they have put us
in front of a lot of potential investors.”
Day says OTL has grown beyond its traditional role of protecting
the university’s intellectual property through patents
to become more of a full-service operation, serving as a matchmaker
to help recruit seasoned entrepreneurs to partner with UF
inventors on the launching of a company.
“It is unfair to ask our scientists to both run their
laboratories and lead the time-consuming effort of starting
a business,” Day says. “Most have limited knowledge
of how to run a company, so we work hard to partner them with
people who really understand the business end and can ensure
that the company survives long enough to be successful.”
A valuable tool for making that connection has been the EDA
University Center, jointly funded by the UF Office of Research
and Graduate Programs and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
The center, based within OTL, does much of the “heavy
lifting” of identifying appropriate technologies and
bringing them to the attention of entrepreneurs and potential
investors, Day says.
“It is our business to understand what the investors
are looking for and do our best to deliver it,” he adds.
“We are knowledgeable in how to structure a deal to
out-compete the other 99 out of 100 deals that will not be
funded by the venture capitalists.”
And the results are impressive. In the last 12 months companies
associated with UF technologies and the EDA program have raised
more than $23 million.
The region’s biggest success to date came in November
when Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation, or AGTC, completed
one of the largest venture capital deals in Florida’s
young biotechnology history. A group led by InterWest Partners
of Menlo Park, California, invested $15.25 million in the
company, which is exploring the use of adeno-associated virus,
or AAV, in human therapeutics. The company’s core technology,
developed at UF, allows the use of AAV as a vehicle to deliver
beneficial genes to correct genetic defects in critically
“OTL introduced us to UF alumni and business partners
who were well networked into the investment world,”
says AGTC Chief Executive Officer Sue Washer. “This
was essential in helping AGTC develop the critical contacts
in the venture capital arena that eventually led to our success
in landing a nationally recognized group of investors.”
Day says that although the university has a lot of technologies
in the pipeline, “we haven’t been on the radar
of the big-money venture capitalists, partly because of our
location and partly because we have not structured attractive
deals. Now we’re working harder and smarter, and we’re
One vehicle for getting UF technologies recognized by venture
capitalists is the Southeast BioInvestors Forum, or SEBIO,
whose sixth annual meeting will be held in Miami in November.
More than 400 participants, including 150 of the most notable
East Coast venture capitalists, will view the regions’
20 best young biotech investing deals.
“This conference will put bioscience investing opportunity
in Florida on the map,” says forum co-chair David Gury,
former chairman of Boca Raton-based NABI Biopharmaceuticals
and chair of the Florida Research Consortium. “Since
it was founded in 1999, the forum has grown into perhaps the
most significant annual regional bio-investing event in the
Another sign that Gainesville is “on the radar”
of the venture capital community is that two investment groups
have opened offices in Gainesville — Inflexion Partners
and the Emergent Growth Fund, the area’s first “angel
investor” group. The fund was founded by a group of
successful businesspersons from the Gainesville-Ocala area
and is expected to focus its considerable resources on technology
companies developed locally.
Inflexion Partners is an early-stage venture capital fund
with an emphasis on company building.
“Florida is a national venture treasure in that ideas,
technology and entrepreneurs are plentiful but sophisticated
venture capital is in short supply,” says Dan Rua, a
managing partner in Inflexion’s Gainesville office.
The university’s expanded efforts in licensing, especially
of biotechnology, dovetail nicely with Gov. Jeb Bush’s
commitment to give state backing to the most promising technologies
from all of Florida’s state universities.
When Bush persuaded the Florida Legislature to appropriate
$30 million to create university Centers of Excellence in
emerging technologies in 2002, UF was ready with a proposal
to create the Center of Excellence for Regenerative Health
Biotechnology, which was one of the first three funded, for
$10 million. The center’s mission is “to stimulate
promising research and facilitate commercialization of technologies
that will provide treatments and cures for human diseases,
as well as create new companies and high-wage jobs for Florida.”
Florida’s university technology transfer offices are
also working together more to bundle technologies into stronger,
more fundable deals, Day says.
One recent example was the First Annual Florida Tech Transfer
Conference, held in St. Petersburg on May 17 and 18. The conference
was organized jointly by the 10 Florida State University System
institutions, plus the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, Nova
Southeastern University and the University of Miami.
“This was the first statewide event to showcase breakthrough
technologies from universities,” says Jack Sullivan
Jr., president of the Florida Research Consortium. “We
wanted to demonstrate the groundbreaking research Florida’s
universities have to offer.”
“Our goal was to put everyone under one roof and showcase
the hottest new stuff in the universities,” says Tampa
Bay Tech Forum executive director Michelle Bauer. “Everybody
wants the next biggest thing, and this meeting was essentially
While the University of Florida has been a national leader
in royalty revenues for decades, “We can’t just
sit around waiting for the next Gatorade to happen,”
“Our scientists are constantly generating new ideas
that have the potential to benefit society,” he adds.
“We’re committed to making sure they get that
Director, Office of Technology Licensing
Biotechnology is developing cell-based
therapies focused on treatment of metabolic
disorders, particularly kidney stones and
Ixion began operations in 1995. Currently the company’s
20 employees occupy more than 12,100 square feet
of lab and office space near the University of Florida.
Since 1999, the company has received more than $2
million in NIH research funds, and in 2000 it received
a national Tibbetts Award from the Small Business
Administration in recognition of its research activities.
Plant Genetics, Inc.
Plant Genetics, Inc., or IPG, is
developing genetic technologies to make plants resistant
to such devastating diseases as citrus canker and
IPG's Disease Block technology, which was first
demonstrated in model systems at the University
of Florida and now in grapefruit by IPG, aims to
reduce the severity of a host of diseases caused
by bacteria and fungi.
The initial demonstration projects are the creation
of transgenic citrus, geranium and tomato plants
with immunity to several severe bacterial diseases,
including citrus canker disease, geranium wilt,
geranium blight and tomato leaf spot disease.
manufacturers use chemical
slurries to smooth out large silicon wafers embedded
with millions of transistors in a complex process
known as chemical-mechanical planarization, or CMP.
SinMat has demonstrated tremendous technical successes
developing abrasive chemical slurries for use in
CMPI. Using proprietary chemistries and nanoparticles,
SinMat offers slurries that polish copper and other
materials in a uniquely soft and gentle manner.
The firm’s distinctive chemistries result
in a gentler, single-step process to fabricate next-generation
semiconductors, a vast improvement over the three-step
process currently in use by the industry.
Leveraging the talents of its staff, who are recognized
worldwide as authorities in the field, SinMat is
poised to become a leader in advanced slurry development
for the semiconductor industry..
1996, Congress mandated that the EPA
develop testing for endocrine disrupting com-
pounds, or EDCs, in water. One result of this
mandate was formation of a large-scale screening
program to develop and standardize tests for monitoring
all pesticide chemicals and other substances that
may be found in drinking water.
EcoArray has developed a methodology to measure
the impact of EDCs at the genetic level in several
fish species using microarray gene chip technology,
a procedure that is faster and more precise than
traditional testing methods. Microarrays, which
have been used in human disease testing for about
10 years, deliver huge quantities of data at very