20/01/2004 - 21:00

Researchers need focus on financial outcomes

20/01/2004 - 21:00


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THE participants in the WA Business News innovation forum agree that Western Australia’s universities need to drive commercial outcomes from their basic research.

Researchers need focus on financial outcomes

THE participants in the WA Business News innovation forum agree that Western Australia’s universities need to drive commercial outcomes from their basic research.

Foundation Capital’s Ian Murchison was the most blunt and succinct in putting this view.

“The State needs to turn research into a business,” Mr Murchison said.

Zernike’s Peter Why believes the State Government’s Office of Science and Innovation, headed by Dr Bruce Hobbs, has not grasped this imperative.

“Can I say to everybody here, I think you should go and talk to Bruce Hobbs and show him that there is a connection between science and industry, because at the moment that guy doesn’t realise that,” Mr Why said.

“He is investing in the basic science infrastructure and doesn’t realise what we are talking about today, is that science can make WA a leader.”

pSivida’s Gavin Rezos said capturing a lot of the research being done in the universities was a major challenge.

“One of the challenges we find working with the universities is the high expectation of value at the level of development,” Mr Rezos said.

“Often the expectation is uncommercial or the development path is not commercially orientated.”

UWA’s Colin MacLeod put a positive slant on the issue, saying that new commercial opportunities would only arise if there was a sustained commitment to excellent basic research.

He said UWA’s Office of Industry and Innovation had achieved great progress over the past three years in linking research with commercial opportunities.

“It’s done tremendously well,” Mr MacLeod told those at the forum.

“It’s a small entity with four staff, but in that short time we have had five start up companies and 12 licensing deals.

“The major success is not so much the start-up companies but the breadth of impact.

“The recognition that basic research can turn into commercial dollars to sustain research and academic activity has been a real success.”

Mr Rezos agreed that professional commercialisation offices, which have been established by all of WA’s major universities, could help to overcome problems that have arisen in the past.

“A regular problem was where a researcher naively fell in with a multinational,” Mr Rezos said.

“For example, a large pharmaceutical company may go into a university and work with a researcher and give them, say, $50,000 for funding, and say ‘we’ll work together’ but with the intention of putting their foot on it.

“They have no plan to commercialise until they have extracted value for their own products, which the new research may replace.

“The individual researcher thinks they are better off dealing outside rather than working with their own professional commercialisation office, notwithstanding they have no experience in the area.

“Trust still needs to be built up in that relationship.”

Mr MacLeod said UWA regularly reviewed the management of commercial grants.

“We do have discussions about whether a large amount of money may on occasions be taken too early, before thinking through the longer term commercialisation strategy,” he said.

“Where this has come up, we are comfortable with the outcome but it is a real issue.”

Atrico’s Ivan Gustavino called for more strategic thinking from the universities.

“What we don’t see in the universities or anywhere else in this region is a clear view of what do we do from a strategic standpoint in initiating, valuing, capturing, positioning, getting visibility,” Mr Gustavino said.

He said Atrico was working with one university in WA on a strategy to help them decide where they put their focus and time and resources.

The aim was to be more focused and find areas of core differentiating sustainable advantage.


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