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School research funds rise

Florida's universities post solid gains in investment dollars for technical projects.

By MADHUSMITA BORA
Published May 30, 2007


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Florida universities have a long trek ahead before catching up with the resources of counterparts in California and Massachusetts.

But the Sunshine State is fast emerging as a regional leader when it comes to raising money for research and licensing.

A survey released Tuesday at the fourth annual Florida Tech Transfer Conference in Miami shows that private and government investments in university research rose 2.4 percent last year for a total of nearly $1.6-billion.

That's a 58 percent increase since 2000.

The news is comforting to educational leaders and businesses congregating in Miami this week for the conference that matches corporations in search of new and bright ideas with academic institutions seeking opportunities to commercialize research. Earlier this month, Business Week magazine said the University of Florida is spawning enough startups to join the enviable ranks of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology.

"We are now past the state of Georgia, about the same level as North Carolina, " said David Day, director of technology licensing at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "The fact that we are continuing to grow even in the face of cutbacks at the federal level is a tribute to the quality of research and quality of our universities."

Florida researchers were issued 156 U.S. patents in 2006, up 18 percent from the year before, the survey found. Income from licensing was more than $47-million, a nearly $4-million increase from 2005.

Still, that number is dismally low compared with the $95-million the state netted in 2000. University leaders attribute the licensing income gap to the cyclical nature of patents. The state took more than a $60-million hit when Florida State University's royalties from the anticancer drug Taxol began tapering off in 2002. At its peak, the state made more than $67-million from the drugmaking process. Last year, it earned nothing.

But university leaders aren't grieving the loss. They say they are excited about the future. The state is already creating a flutter with heavyweight biotech research names like Scripps, Burnham and the Torrey Pines Institute.

Last year Florida companies struck up 40 partnerships with universities, a trend educators say will continue to grow.

"We were behind in the beginning, " said Gary Margules, assistant provost and director of technology transfer at the University of Miami.

"But the new initiatives at Torrey Pines and Burnham are really changing the climate and we can probably beat the odds."

Madhusmita Bora can be reached at (813) 225-3112 or mbora@sptimes.com.

[Last modified May 29, 2007, 22:47:05]


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