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A model for technology transfer.

Increased focus and co-operation between government, industry and universities achieve success in spawning viable, high-tech Canadian companies

Something unique is happening at Canada's third largest university. Entrepreneurial scientists at York University in North York are developing products and processes for commercial applications by starting high tech companies on campus. The activity is catalyzed by the technology transfer centre, innovation York.

A great deal of research in Canada is located in university, hospital and government laboratories. Much of it is impressive research indeed. However, not enough of this research gets developed for commercial use in Canada by Canadian firms.

Innovation York is trying to change that. Richard Adair of the centre says, "With a little help and encouragement, there's no reason Canadian entrepreneurs cannot grow new high tech companies to compete in world markets. And, after 10 years of experience in technology transfer activities, I believe York is one of the best places in Canada for this to happen."

A number of factors have come together to give York such an opportunity.

The university is land rich - 600 acres - and located in Canada's industrial and financial heartland. Its Faculty of Pure and Applied Science, although small in number, are world class in several specific areas, namely biotechnology, atmospheric chemistry and space science. Moreso, the university's senior administrators have developed policies and procedures to facilitate industrial interaction on campus without jeopardizing the traditional role of faculty members to pursue basic research and teaching. Professors are encouraged to pursue their primary goals but are also free to commercialize innovations through their own efforts or in conjunction with Innovation York.

On campus, rental laboratory space is available to scientists wishing to locate a fledgling business to commercialize advances initiated in their research laboratories. This space allows professors and students to work at developing applications without interfering with teaching and research efforts.

Companies locating in the technology incubator are carefully screened to ensure they complement the university's research strengths. These companies see benefits in a university location and are willing to conduct themselves within the policy guidelines regarding research protocols and workplace safety.

The presence of an NRC industrial technology officer (ITA) enhances the opportunities for embryonic, technology-driven companies to access IRAP funding and vertically, interface with strategic partners. The ITA also fosters networking with small companies and the industrial community at large.

At present, companies located in the technology incubator are advancing chemical instrumentation and processes, atmospheric research and biotechnology developments for commercial markets.

NIRSystems, a subsidiary of Perstorp Analytical, applies near-infrared spectrophotometry to laboratory and on-line processes. Their services benefit pharmaceutical and petrochemical companies as well as food and agriculture concerns. Jeff Hall, application scientist, also conducts research in biomedical and biotechnology fields. An AACC Young Investigator Award winner and associate scientist at Mt. Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Hall is looking at the potential of near-infrared in clinical and medical lab measurements. infrared techniques able to test, simultaneously, for several indicators on unmodified samples promise significant savings both in cost and time, "Location within an academic community gives me the availability of specific expertise we couldn't get in a bank of commercial laboratories," Hall says. "The incubator setting also allows us to multiplex with other little companies. it's definitely advantageous."

Dalton Chemicals began in 1987 to synthesize low volume, high purity chemicals on a contract basis. Through daily interactions with biologists, Dalton has identified new market niches in the biotechnology industry. Now, they synthesize ultrapure chemicals for pharmaceutical companies and the biotechnology community and are the only Canadian company producing many of these products on a commercial scale. The present challenge is to improve scale-up techniques for processing that maintain quality as well as cost competitiveness.

Dalton's position vis a vis the university is also unique. Since inception, the company has donated money towards university research and, about two years ago, initiated the collection and bulk packaging of hazardous, chemical waste from the university's research laboratories. This project saves the university thousands of dollars and is only one example of the symbiotic relationship between the companies and the university community.

Hybrisens, a spinoff from the Research Development Corporation of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, carries out R&D contracts relating to monoclonal antibodies, immuno assays, bioassays, and protein purification and modifications. The company has developed a novel method to increase the resistance of biologically active proteins to inactivation by heat, freezing and thawing, oxidation and alcohol. The method is being applied to human and animal therapy, and the industrial use of enzymes in food, chemical and detergent industries.

Companies like these are the stars of technology transfer activities. They provide clear indications that Canada has numerous opportunities in university, hospital and government labs to generate high tech companies.

Dr. Joan Wick-Pelletier, York's Associate Vice-President (Research), suggests more technology transfer from such institutions is needed. "We continued our commitment even when government support was withdrawn," she says. "It is important to the economy of the country and to Ontario."

Her comments reinforce the plight of Canadian technology transfer centres. increased focus and cooperation between government, industry and universities is required to achieve success in spawning and growing viable, high tech, Canadian companies.

York's model for technology transfer proves the marriage of laboratory space and a supportive environment conducive to technological commercialization builds long-term, non-intrusive and mutually beneficial relationships. In seven years, Innovation York has assisted over 200 firms access university faculty and facilitated the start-up and growth of about 20 high tech companies.
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Title Annotation:cooperation between Canadian government, industry and universities
Author:Kosmolak, Bette
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Previous Article:Partners in the future?
Next Article:Basic research should still be a cornerstone of universities.

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