School funds research by selling its findings

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ATHENS, Ga. --- Like many American research universities, the University of Georgia has been taking its lumps in recent years when it comes to pulling in research grants, as the federal government cut back on the budgets that sponsor scientific research.

Carl Patton (from left), the president of Georgia State University; Michael Adams, the president of the University of Georgia; Dan Rahn, the president of the Medical College of Georgia; and Wayne Clough, the president of the Georgia Institute of Technology, meet for a research overview.  Morris News Service
Morris News Service
Carl Patton (from left), the president of Georgia State University; Michael Adams, the president of the University of Georgia; Dan Rahn, the president of the Medical College of Georgia; and Wayne Clough, the president of the Georgia Institute of Technology, meet for a research overview.

After growing steadily for years, UGA's federal research funding declined from $116.6 million in 2003 to $87.7 million in 2006 before bouncing back to $95.3 million last year.

But more and more, UGA is generating its own research money by selling its research discoveries and inventions to companies that hope to turn those inventions into useful products, such as medicines.

In a survey of 150 top research universities, UGA ranked 10th among public schools in generating income from technology commercialization, money the college gets when companies pay for the rights to use the discovery.

When private research universities are included, UGA ranked 19th nationally in 2006, according to the Association of University Technology Managers, which releases the dollar totals annually. In 2005, UGA ranked 24th.

The university pulled in $16.8 million in 2006, more than Georgia Tech ($1.8 million) and just slightly less than Emory University ($17.8 million), two other top Georgia research universities, according to the association.

There's no one reason why UGA does so well at marketing its research, said UGA Vice President for Research David Lee.

Part of it simply is the kind of research UGA scientists specialize in, he said.

Most of UGA's technology commercialization income in 2006, about 68 percent, came from therapeutic discoveries that could lead to new medicines or medical diagnostic procedures.

For example, an agreement last year with the biotech company Inhibitex Inc. will allow the company to use a UGA pharmacy professor's discovery in hopes of developing a drug to attack an enzyme that the AIDS virus needs to survive in the body, said Sohail Malik, the director of technology commercialization for the University of Georgia Research Foundation.

The foundation is a nonprofit corporation formed to support and expand research at UGA.

UGA also got about $4.1 million from plants developed by UGA scientists, including turfgrass for golf courses and ornamental shrubs and flowers developed by horticulture professors.

Much of the state's annual peanut crop comes from varieties developed by Bill Branch, a UGA researcher at the university's Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton.

Mr. Branch and other researchers there develop peanut varieties that produce higher yields and are resistant to common diseases.

A growing cadre of star scientists brought to UGA by the Georgia Research Alliance is also contributing to UGA's technology commercialization money, Mr. Lee said.

The research alliance, funded by both state and corporate money, has brought nearly 60 scientists to UGA and other Georgia research universities since it was founded in 1990. In the meantime, the research alliance has been copied by several other states who want to use academic research to build the state's economy, Mr. Lee said.

The research alliance chooses their scientists based not just on scientific ability, but also on how much economic potential their research has.

MONEY FOR SCIENCE

The University of Georgia does a much better job than most research universities at marketing its scientists' inventions to private companies to turn into products that can be sold, according to a recent survey by the Association of University Technology Managers. The top 10 public schools in income from technology commercialization in 2006:

1. University of California (entire system) -- $193.5 million

2. University of Minnesota -- $56.2 million

3. University of Florida -- $42.9 million

4. University of Wisconsin-Madison -- $42.4 million

5. University of Washington -- $36.2 million

6. University of Massachusetts -- $27.2 million

7. University of Colorado -- $21.2 million

8. University of Michigan -- $20.5 million

9. University of Iowa -- $16.9 million

10. University of Georgia -- $16.8 million

Source: Association of University Technology Managers


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