June 9-22, 2000
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Health System promotes research-industry ties

By Charlotte Crystal

Bringing new drugs to market is a long and expensive process -- each one costs industry about $600 million, said Richard Di Rocco, an official with BTG International Inc. Di Rocco spoke at "Common Ground: Building Collaborative Partnerships with Industry," a conference held May 31 by the U.Va. Health System Development Office to promote collaboration between scientists in industry and academe.

Pharmaceutical companies are looking for any advantages they can gain in the process, such as drugs that appear to be more promising or well along in the development process, suggesting a faster trip to market, he said.

That's where academic medical researchers come in, according to Di Rocco, whose company assists in technology transfer from universities to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Businesses are actively seeking partnerships with medical researchers at universities around the country to keep their pipelines full of promising new drugs, technology and medical devices. The demand for new products is voracious -- and growing, speakers said.

The Health System Development Office organized Common Ground to foster research partnerships by bringing together medical researchers and business representatives in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical device industries, said Anne Watkins, director of corporate and foundation relations. The conference was attended by nearly 200 people, including faculty scientists, graduate students, business people and venture capitalists.

"The enthusiastic response among business participants shows their high regard for the caliber of medical research conducted at the University of Virginia," Watkins said. "And the interest of our faculty members demonstrates our institutional commitment to bringing research out of the labs and to the bedside where it can ease suffering."

Speakers outlined the University's offices and activities related to research and discussed successful examples of U.Va.-corporate partnerships. They also explored current and emerging areas of industry interest in technology transfer.

Panel participants Janine Jagger, director of the U.Va. International Health Care Worker Safety Center, and Robert Berne, professor emeritus of physiology, both said they connected with their corporate partners through contacts made at similar conferences. Jagger gave a paper on needle-stick injuries to a gathering that included corporate representatives and found they were interested in working with her to improve the safety of their products.

Berne, after many fruitless visits to large pharmaceutical companies, pitched his new drug idea to a small business owner and a cardiologist at a conference in Miami more than a decade ago, making the contact that led to the development of Adenocard, a cardiac drug now in use in ambulances and emergency rooms across the country and is currently the largest source of revenues for the U.Va. Patent Foundation.

The Health System Development Office expects to offer similar programs in the future. A follow-up conference on Nov. 16 will focus on the federal government's SBIR/STTR (Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Research) opportunities.

Additional conference information will soon be available on the Common Ground web site: www.med.virginia.edu/common ground


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