UC Santa Cruz increases outreach to industry

On a sunny afternoon in June, the Chardonnay II set sail from Santa Cruz harbor with a passenger list that included researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and CEOs of regional biotech and high-tech companies. As the 70-foot sailing yacht cruised past dolphins and sea otters under a flawless blue sky, passengers exchanged business cards and their conversations turned to technical subjects.

"The goal was to make new connections between UCSC and industry and to promote collaborative research," said organizer Todd Wipke, professor of chemistry and biochemistry. "We have organized several events like this in the past few months that have been very successful."

While the vast majority of funding for UCSC research comes from federal grants, a growing number of researchers also receive some funding through collaborative partnerships with private companies. In addition to the funding opportunities they offer, university-industry partnerships can help research projects move more quickly toward practical applications.

Wipke, who serves as campus liaison to the UC Office of Technology Transfer, has been working to encourage more interest in industry partnerships.

"This campus has never done much outreach to industry, but that is starting to change," Wipke said. "We want people in industry to know about the opportunities for collaborative research at UCSC."

Most university-industry collaborations at UCSC involve biomedical research or engineering and computer technology. These are also areas in which the campus has been expanding its faculty.

Ali Shakouri, associate professor of electrical engineering, was one faculty member who made a useful connection during the cruise on the Chardonnay II, which was followed by dinner at the Santa Cruz Yacht Club. Shakouri, whose work involves measuring temperatures in computer chips, got acquainted with Cliff Warren, CEO of Raytek, a local company that makes devices for infrared temperature measurements.

Although the highly specialized applications of Shakouri's work make a direct collaboration with Raytek unlikely, Warren said the company would be very interested in working with undergraduate and graduate students involved in projects like Shakouri's that involve infrared optics, physics, electronics, and software.

"My students would have a good background for Raytek, and [Warren] had some good ideas for projects that they could work on at Raytek for a senior thesis or a summer job. It would be a good experience for the students," Shakouri said. "This kind of dialogue with local companies is important, so I thought it was a very helpful event," he added.

Wipke is especially eager to increase the visibility of biomedical research at UCSC. For a campus without a medical school, UCSC does a surprising amount of biomedical research, he said. The campus receives about $10 million annually in research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), making NIH the campus's second largest funding source after the National Science Foundation.

In addition to the informal gathering Wipke organized in June, there have also been more formal events. At a meeting at the UCSC Inn and Conference Center in April, for example, industry representatives and UCSC faculty gave brief presentations about their research.

One purpose of these events has been to educate both faculty and industry about UC programs that are available to support collaborative partnerships. These include the Life Sciences: Information Technology program (LS:IT) and the Biotechnology Strategic Targets for Alliances in Research (BioSTAR) program.

Both LS:IT and BioSTAR are UC-wide matching-grant programs that partner industry sponsors with UC researchers. State funding for the grants is matched at least dollar for dollar by industry sponsors. LS:IT sponsored the events Wipke organized in April and June, and a similar meeting in May, organized by professor of chemistry and biochemistry Anthony Fink, was sponsored by BioSTAR.

Several UCSC researchers have received grants through the BioSTAR and LS:IT programs. Wipke, for example, has had a drug development project sponsored by Roche Bioscience through BioSTAR and another sponsored by Affymax through the LS:IT program. Fink and Bakthan Singaram, also a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, both have grants through BioSTAR. Fink's grant is sponsored by Amgen and Singaram's by GluMetrics.

Industry collaborations offer more than just increased funding for UC researchers. Interactions with industry researchers can contribute significantly to a research project, Wipke said. The arrangement sometimes gives university researchers access to valuable proprietary information the company has not made public. In addition, graduate students gain useful exposure to industry research, and the companies get to meet graduate students they may be interested in recruiting.

Intellectual property issues are handled through agreements worked out for each grant. Discoveries made through research performed at the university are, in principle, the intellectual property of the university. But typically the university will give an exclusive license back to the company that sponsored the research, Wipke said. Things get more complicated when the company does further development and modification of an idea or product on its own.

"A lot depends on the exact nature of the research, so for each grant there is a specific arrangement that spells out how intellectual property is handled," Wipke said.

Robert Miller, vice chancellor for research, has proposed a Technology Enterprise Center at UCSC to manage intellectual property issues, as well as to facilitate the development of new ventures based on the campus's intellectual property.

"University-industry partnerships offer benefits to both parties, and I am very interested to see UCSC develop more interactions with industry," Miller said.