Moving Research Into The Commercial Sector

May 1, 1998

Carol Schlueter

Ask Carla Fishman for her latest success stories and she pauses. "When is your deadline? I'm working on a couple of things that are really promising . . . " As director of Tulane's Office of Technology Development, Fishman already has an impressive record of successes in her fast-paced job to market and license Tulane inventions to the commercial sector.

In the last fiscal year, her office generated $6.6 million in gross revenues for technology licensing, up from $5.3 million in 1996 and $4.9 million in 1995. Behind the numbers in 1997 were 18 different technologies that generated income, as well as the execution of 10 licensing agreements. Those results bring national attention, placing Tulane eighth in the nation among private institutions and 15th overall among universities, according to the latest survey by the Association of University Technology Managers.

"Tulane's success in licensing income can best be attributed to the innovative and commercially applicable work of its faculty," Fishman said. "For a school of Tulane's size, we are competing very favorably with larger institutions that have higher levels of sponsored research dollars."

Fishman's job is to assist Tulane researchers whose laboratory innovations and discoveries have promise in the commercial sector. For example, there are the pathology department researchers who developed a plasmid and cell line that propagate the Hepatitis C virus. This drug-discovery tool has been licensed non-exclusively to numerous pharmaceutical companies, Fishman said.

If the companies are successful in identifying a compound against Hepatitis C while using the Tulane technology, it could mean further "milestone payments" to the university. Then there is David H. Coy, PhD, research professor in the department of medicine, who co-developed two promising drugs, both of which are now being marketed in Europe.

And consider two professors in microbiology. John Clements invented a promising compound to increase the potency and activity of vaccines; it is being licensed for both human and veterinary use. The discoveries of Robert F. Garry led to the start-up of a company called Autoimmune Technologies. Meanwhile, Dr. Mark James, associate professor of tropical medicine, has developed a synthetic peptide that will be incorporated into a diagnostic kit to detect malarial infection.

"What Tulane does well is basic research," Fishman said. "Our purpose is to see if there is an opportunity to actually get the results of Tulane research out to benefit the public." The benefits from marketing that research are many, she added. "Under our intellectual property policy, faculty members share evenly with the university in the proceeds. Plus, a portion of revenue goes back into the research in that department," she said. "If we are able to license an invention, it is also possible to get sponsored research from that company to do further work in the faculty member's laboratory."

Positive exposure in the scientific community is another by-product. In addition to juggling highly sensitive negotiations between the university and industry, Fishman and Nicole Baute, assistant director, are constantly doing outreach on both the uptown and downtown campuses to find "inventive contributions" that could have commercial applications. Working with deans, talking to department chairs and developing a web site (address: http://www.mcl. are all part of that outreach.

As for those promising Tulane inventions that are in her bulging briefcase right now, don't ask Fishman for the details just yet. Just know that as Tulane innovations continue, she will be working to keep the university among the nation's leaders in technology transfer.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000