How to bridge valley of death
BIOMEDICAL products, rational drug design, nano- engineering and defence applications are the hot intellectual property areas likely to be targeted if a new $ 30 million university pre- seed fund gets the green light.
Inspired by the leading university research commercialisation company, UniQuest, Monash University, the three Adelaide universities ( Adelaide, Flinders and University of South Australia) and the University of Auckland are in final talks aimed at establishing the TransTasman Collaboration Fund.
University of Adelaide Research and Innovation managing director Robert Chalmers tells the HES that there are ‘‘ a lot of potential good stories in university research, but for want of additional early stage funding they may never see the light of day’’.
‘‘ Each institution would like to think it had a blockbuster application like Gardasil,’’ Chalmers says.
Sales and royalties from the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil — developed at the University of Queensland during the past two decades and in which UQ’s UniQuest has a royalty stake — have allowed vaccine maker CSL to post an after- tax profit increase of $ 539 million, or 54 per cent.
UniQuest’s collaboration partner is a $ 61 million fund, Uniseed, jointly owned by UQ, the University of Melbourne and the University of NSW.
Monash executive director, industry engagement and commercialisation, Ian Smith says if the fund gets up, and he is confident it will, most of the Group of Eight universities will be covered for what he calls ‘‘ the valley of death, the gap between someone coming up with a really bright idea and getting the funding to do real experiments’’.
‘‘ However, there is a lot of stuff coming out of the next tier universities,’’ he says.
‘‘ We have been asked the question if other Victorian universities could join this scheme at a later date, which in principle would be fine.’’
Smith acknowledges that UniQuest and Uniseed’s success was a leading inspiration for the TTCF deal.
‘‘ Even though Monash is the largest university in the country, we don’t have access to pre- seed funding. We’ve been looking long and hard at the valley of death,’’ he says.
Monash has a proof- of- concept fund for sums of about $ 50,000, he says.
But it can’t take the best ideas to start- up or spin- off stage because it doesn’t have access to the necessary venture capital that ‘‘ ebbs and flows and is fairly conservative and risk averse’’.
Under the TTCF deal, potential new startup technologies would be spun off intellectual property generated from the Monash Centre for Synchrotron Science in nano- engineering and applied biotechnology in medical areas, especially in rational drug design.
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Picture: Andy Tyndall