While the best of university and hospital researchers apply their skills to mitigate the current crisis, tech transfer leaders would do well to prepare for an environment that will undoubtedly change post-COVID-19. We have corralled and will share a number of themes articulated by tech transfer leaders as they manage their operations during the crisis and consider what lies ahead.* Surprisingly, instead of seeing a lull in activity, many say that their teams, now working from home, are busier than ever pushing through technologies already in the pipeline. Once this work is completed, there is agreement that we'll see a slowdown in disclosures pursuant to labs shutting down and projects slowed as the corona virus impacts research initiatives.
Mitigating Risk is the Name of the Game
TTO’s are encouraged to take an active role in de-risking innovation to make technologies more attractive to spinout or for licensing. Decrease risk by helping to grease the skids for sponsored research; clearly spell out terms early so sponsors can anticipate licensing costs. Or bundle agreements together to streamline the process.
Get Ahead of Impending Budgetary Challenges
Budgetary cuts are definitely on the horizon but those do not need to play out in a decrease in FTE’s for the TTO. A decline in disclosures presents an opportunity to rein in patent expenses. What’s more, a hard look at which technologies truly merit patent pursuit in the first place could free up significant funds.
Raise the Flag for Translational Research
Translational research is typically underfunded by the feds so uncovering funds either internally, or from other sources, is important. It’s an opportune time for AUTM or other industry groups to educate Congress and state officials and advocate for more funding to bring innovation to the market more quickly.
Support Your Current Constituents
Although, it’s important to create new companies to replace those that can’t make it through this pandemic, support for current spinouts or licensees is where TTO’s can step in proactively. Review of agreements and flexibility in milestone payments can make all the difference to survival.
Step Up Marketing and Communications
In many ways, there is a captive audience for content with folks sheltering at home. The advice we heard is that now is the time to develop better marketing materials in all formats and not just for COVID-related technologies. In addition, communicate across your institution with the message that the TTO is here to help on all fronts.
Manage Up for What Lies Ahead
Inevitably, tech transfer leaders anticipate an interim dip in disclosures as during the pandemic research labs have been shuttered and other projects have, at the very least, slowed down. An ongoing discussion with senior management needs to start now and scenarios mapped out to keep everyone in the loop.
Above all, TTO leaders agree that a long-term view toward the positive societal impact of innovation is the watchword for 2020 and beyond. This has always been the mission of tech transfer and today it is more important than ever.
* These perspectives, among others, were articulated in a recent UCLA T3PO webinar. You can view a video of the full webinar here: https://bit.ly/2yehxzr