Technology Transfer: Benefits from Biotech

This side-event, organized by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and cosponsored by the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), provided an overview on the key elements at play in establishment an enabling environment for transfer of technology to support the full implementation of CBD objectives and priorities. Following introductions and an overview on the issues, two experts in the field provided valuable first-hand experience on practical aspects of technology transfer.

The panel moderator was Ms. Lila Feisee, Managing Director for Intellectual Property, Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). Other speakers included:

Mrs. Susan Kling Finston, President, Finston Consulting, LLC
“Enabling Environments for Technology Transfer;”

Dr. Kevin Cullen, Director, Research & Enterprise, University of Glasgow
“Universities, Technology Transfer and Economic Development;”

Mr. Owen C. Hughes, Senior Corporate Counsel, Pfizer
“Technology Transfer for Development: The View from Industr.”

Mrs. Finston of Finston Consulting LLC and a founding board member of BayhDole25, a NGO focused on technology transfer issues, provided an overview on how CBD Members have established enabling environments and increased assimilation of new technologies through commercial development and job creation. These key elements include a durable government commitment to science and the infrastructure of science, a stable rule-of-law environment including effective protection of innovation through intellectual property protection, and market oriented policies that reward risk and provide incentives for private companies to invest in new technologies. Under this model, there are important roles for CBD Member Governments, educational and research institutions, and most importantly private companies as the engine for commercialization of new technologies.

Dr. Kevin Cullen, University of Glasgow, representing AUTM (the Association of University Technology Managers) explored the role of Universities in Technology Transfer. The presentation covered the increasingly important role of Universities as contributors to the Knowledge Economy, through the creation and dissemination of knowledge through publication, teaching and Technology/Knowledge Transfer. The model showed how Universities can and do make different types of contributions to our society, community and economy, sometimes acting as agents of economic development (doing public good) and sometimes acting as entrepreneurial organizations (generating financial returns).

  • In doing public good, the University helps companies, entrepreneurs and students through the transfer of University knowledge to them. The companies, entrepreneurs and students are the beneficiaries and these activities usually cost the University money to do.
  • In generating financial returns, the University seeks to generate revenues from the exploitation of valuable Intellectual property. When successful, this activity generates returns, which can be used to reward inventors and reinvest in research.

Mr. Owen Hughes, Senior Corporate Counsel for Pfizer discussed his personal experience working in the trenches on technology transfer for 15 years with Pfizer and provided examples from Singapore (collaborative biotechnology Clinical Research Units), Uganda (Model HIV/AIDS facility for physician training and patient with latest drugs and techniques); and WHO (Early research target screening).

Owen Hughes emphasized tech transfer deals to be win-win, for a good exchange between partners that leave both sides better off. Thinking in advance about your partners can help to “unstuck” deals that appear to reach an impasse. It is also to keep a long-term perspective. Intellectual Property ownership is an important issue that can be agreed upon between the parties. IP is important, yet not every thing needs to be owned. And IP rights are transient, and so ownership and control of new technologies is temporary for either party. Another way to think about managing the tech transfer process is to see it as each side teaching the other. At Pfizer, even for an apparently one-way deal such as buying chemical reagents or asking for an experiment to be run, company personnel are teaching the other party something: what kind of process controls to use, what kinds of assays and follow-on steps should be considered. Complex deals, of course, are explicitly bilateral in their teaching. Pfizer may learn a great deal about particular genetic resources or traditional knowledge from a CBD member or indigenous community.

Overall, CBD members gained a better understanding of the complementary and important roles of government, research institutions/universities, and companies/entrepreneurs in the technology transfer value chain.