In 2015, U-M Tech Transfer Topped Record-Breaking 2014 Numbers

The University of Michigan’s Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) has topped its record-breaking 2014 numbers for patents, agreements, startups, and revenues, according to data released by the university Monday.

During the 2015 fiscal year, which ended June 30, OTT spun out 19 startups, compared to 14 last fiscal year.

“The momentum is continuing to be strong because of the high quality of our startups,” says Ken Nisbet, associate vice president for research-technology transfer. “Nineteen startups is quite a high water mark. We might not see that again.”

U-M tech transfer also signed a record 164 option and license agreements, compared to 148 in the previous fiscal year. And the office scored 160 U.S. patents for university-led inventions, up from 132. (Researchers reported 422 new inventions in fiscal year 2015. Though that’s a drop from last year’s 439, it’s still the third straight year U-M faculty have produced more than 400 inventions.)

U-M tech transfer also received a whopping $78.8 million in licensing revenues in 2015, far more than the $18.5 million it got in the previous fiscal year. Nisbet says the revenue spike was largely the result of a unique deal for the drug eliglustat (Cerdelga), which treats Gaucher Disease. After years of research, the university licensed the drug to Genzyme in 2000 for further development. Eliglustat finally obtained FDA approval late last year.

Last November, U-M signed an agreement with PDL BioPharma to sell a portion of its royalty interest in eliglustat. Under the terms of the agreement, PDL paid U-M $65.6 million in exchange for 75 percent of all royalty payments due under U-M’s licensing deal with Genzyme until expiration of the licensed patents, excluding any patent term extension.

“It was a nice bump, and the money got put to use right away,” Nisbet says, noting the funds go toward getting other U-M innovations to market and continuing the work of incubating spinout startups in OTT’s Venture Center.

Nisbet attributes OTT’s success to a number of factors: more participation across campus, funding of key development programs by the university and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and solid relationships with the venture community, enabling the university to better understand what kind of investments they’re looking for. But it all starts, he says, with the number and quality of inventions U-M churns out each year.

“We’re ranked in the top ten in terms of research and inventions—that’s the core,” Nisbet adds. “We have to have good raw materials, and that’s a huge driver for all of this.”

For OTT’s part, Nisbet says, “We’re excited to play a vital role in helping faculty get their ideas out there. It helps the economy, the community, and the reputation of the university, and I think that’s all good. The more we get the word out, the more people will want to participate.”

U-M will honor the accomplishments of faculty and researchers engaged in the technology transfer process at a reception on Oct. 8. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

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