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How do Italian researchers feel about Technology Transfer Offices?

By Marija (Masha) Zecevic

As part of a new project, we have surveyed a sample of 87 Italian scientists active in the basic and clinical research in the field of cystic fibrosis (CF). We were interested to assess what needs scientists have for external support when it comes to technology transfer activities.

The key takeaways from our survey:

  • Half of Italian academic researchers believe they have no Technology Transfer Office (TTO) to rely upon

  • 9 out of 10 scientists would like to gain access to a TTO like services with the main goal of initiating collaborations with the industry

  • Majority of scientists believe they have developed useful tools (assays, drug candidates, patient sample banks) that pharmaceutical companies might find of interest

The results of the survey are not surprising, yet I still find them disturbing.

More than half of the scientists believe their institution has no Technology Transfer Office (TTO), and those that are aware of such services have mostly experiences in patent drafting and prosecution only.

FFC Survey.jpg

I know for fact that most of the Italian academic and research institutions do have an office that fits the TTO definition. For some reason though, the scientists are either not aware that those services are available or, more sadly, have had negative experiences in the past when trying to obtain the help they felt they needed. In my experience, these offices indeed handle mostly the prosecution of patent applications and are usually not pro-active when it comes to searching for industrial partnerships, start up creation, training and strategic advisory to employed scientists.

An impressive majority of the sample appears to be eager to open up to the industry and hopeful set up a collaborative relationship. One of the most obvious reasons is likely the chronic lack of funds for research and scientists looking sometimes opportunistically at the industry as a source of revenue through “sponsored research” agreements.

What I found most puzzling was the self-assessment as to what technologies and tools developed by researchers might be potentially of interest to commercial players. Over 60% of interviewed scientists think they have new drug candidates to offer up. Admittedly, few of them probably thought of same compounds, yet it makes me wonder if the researchers truly understand what is commonly considered a “drug candidate” by the pharma companies.

This aspect is certainly worth exploring in more detail and probably confirms my suspicion that the academic scientific community in Italy could benefit from more in depth learning about the industrial drug development process in order to adjust their expectations and increase chances of industrial collaborations.

Even those who believe that industry agenda has no place in the academia, will likely admit that the industry is the only one that brings products to markets, and in this case, to patients.

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