How to bridge val­ley of death

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Research Round - Up - Guy Healy

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.

‘‘

Be­lief in ex­cel­lence: Westscheme chief ex­ec­u­tive Howard Rosario sup­ports R & D de­spite high- risk fac­tors

Pic­ture: Andy Tyn­dall

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