A Program for Georgia's Universities That Means Business
By Clifton Baile
Science in Georgia is undergoing a dramatic transformation, as stronger links are forged between the worlds of business and academia. The result is that UGA and the state’s other research universities are transforming discoveries into new technology companies that provide social good and economic gain for the state.
This transformation is due in large measure to the vision and resources of the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA). Through a partnership of the state’s research universities, the business community and state government, GRA seeks to foster the state’s economic development by leveraging the research capabilities of the research universities, and assisting the development of scientific and technology-based industry, commerce and business.
Since 1993, GRA’s investments in Georgia’s university research infrastructure and talent is estimated to have brought in $2 billion in federal and private investment in Georgia, and over 100 existing corporations have been served by university partnerships. GRA’s approach is so effective that it has become a model for how to move university research from the laboratory to the marketplace. Arizona, Alabama, Minnesota, North Carolina and Washington, as well as the provinces of Canada and countries in the European Union, look to GRA’s example as they chart a course for their economic futures.
The GRA offers resources to foster and accelerate Georgia's economic development by helping Georgia universities obtain both state and private funding for new core laboratories and special equipment, and in some cases, for new university buildings. The GRA Technology Partnership Fund, which matches qualifying commercially sponsored research funds, provides financial support to Georgia universities for start-up company activities. Its VentureLab program provides resources across three phases for the early development of a business, from identifying technologies with high commercial potential through negotiating licenses and providing matching grants and seed funds to promising early-stage Georgia companies.
The GRA works closely with Georgia university-based Technology Development Centers by supporting resources, such as specialized equipment and labs, for fostering the growth and development of a technology undergoing commercialization in a business incubator. To date, 125 companies have graduated from Georgia’s six university-based technology incubators, creating more than 4,000 high-wage, high-tech jobs in the state.
So what does this transformation mean for university researchers? As interaction with industry becomes increasingly important for research universities, academic personnel with industrial experience find themselves in greater demand. This powerful combination of skill sets can help to bridge the cultural gap between the industrial workplace and the laboratory. Although there are opportunities for researchers to move to academia from industry, having the academic credentials before heading to industry makes an eventual return to the academic world easier. Because scientific achievement at universities is still based heavily on publishing and securing grants, those who spend years in industry, especially in an environment where publishing is discouraged, may find it difficult to establish the required credentials.
My own career path, which has alternated between academia and industry, is a case in point. I was first a faculty member at Harvard University, then a research manager in a pharmaceutical company, then a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and finally I spent 13 years as R&D director of a biotechnology division at Monsanto Company. At UGA in 1995, I was initially associated with the Office of the Vice President for Research, in addition to being a professor in the Departments of Animal and Dairy Science and Foods and Nutrition.
With my experience in industry, I had expected to be involved with technology transfer at UGA. But what I had not anticipated was GRA’s multifaceted support, which would prove to be a tremendous draw for researchers like me, and a catalyst for scientific development and commercialization in Georgia.
GRA’s resources make it possible to recruit, develop and support cutting-edge researchers and technologies at the University of Georgia and Georgia’s other universities. All told, GRA has recruited 54 world-class researchers as Eminent Scholars at Georgia’s universities; they have brought in $1 billion in new grants; and 25 companies have been launched from their research. At UGA, I used GRA’s resources to help recruit new technologies and innovative scientists—for example BresaGen, Inc., an Australian stem cell technology company, and GRA Eminent Scholar Steve Stice, an expert on cloning technology. Dr. Stice and I were privileged, with others, to found and develop ProLinia, Inc., which licensed technology from Geron, Inc. for cloning mammals. This was the technology used to produce Dolly, the world’s first cloned mammal, a sheep.
Since then, the GRA, UGA’s Georgia BioBusiness Center and their associated resources have provided me with opportunities to help found and develop some 10 companies. In addition, I am fortunate to serve as a mentor and advisor for many nascent biotechnology companies at UGA.
Not forgetting Georgia’s education mission, faculty closely tied to the commercialization of scientific discoveries add an important component to students’ preparation for careers in industry and academia alike. Graduate students typically leave UGA with multiple offers from other academic institutions and industry because of the real world relevance of their training.
Georgia’s research universities have the opportunity to develop exciting, sustainable new solutions to real world problems, while also adding high-paying technology-based jobs to the economy of Georgia. GRA has recognized that translating research into economic development takes real investment, but like any good investment, it has a tremendous payoff.
Clifton A. Baile
Distinguished Professor of Animal and Dairy Science and Foods and Nutrition and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar of Agricultural Biotechnology
Came to UGA: 1995
Lamar Dodd Award Recipient: 2002
Georgia Biomedical Partnership Community Award: 2003
Biotech Start-Up Companies:
> Abeome, Inc.
During his tenure at Monsanto Company as a Director of R&D and Distinguished Fellow, he led his department in the discovery of a biotech process to produce bovine somatotropin, a growth hormone protein that increases milk production by an average of 10%. His group also developed its delivery formulations, and manufacturing process. Sales of BST are more than $300 million/year.
Baile’s success in taking university research to industry is so great that it was cited in Nature as “a model for others to emulate.”
Research Communications, Office of the VP for Research, UGA
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