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November 23, 1994


Today I wish to report to you how our University is generating entrepreneurial development, and what this means for the region's economy in the future, a concern in which we all have a vital stake. I see enormous potential in bolstering the entrepreneurial vitality of our region. However, I must emphasize that at our core we are an educational institution, and that we must affirm our commitment to the highest standards as we advance our three-fold mission–teaching, research and public service. One sign of our research strength is that we are now among the top 10 universities in America in terms of attracting National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding.

The Enterprise Corporation of Pittsburgh, which assists start-up firms in our region, has just released a report entitled, "Investing to Build Our Entrepreneurial Vitality." And so I think today's topic is a timely one. In this country the 50 or so major research universities — including Pitt and Carnegie Mellon — perform 80 percent of the nation's basic research; a multibillion dollar undertaking that is in large part responsible for generating the wellspring of ideas that flow into innovations of products and services, and that ultimately leads to economic growth and international competitiveness.

This dynamic process, this information and technology transfer, also plays a powerful role in promoting entrepreneurial development — spurring the birth of new technology companies. Good basic research leading to technology transfer has been a part of our story at the University of Pittsburgh going back well over a century. In the 1860s, Samuel Pierpont Langley, director of Allegheny Observatory, invented a railroad time service known as the Allegheny System, by which some 40 Eastern railroads kept time. In the 1950s, Jonas Salk's work in our University's labs led to the discovery of a means to conquer polio, one of humanity's cruelest diseases.

In the early 1980s, the University added U-PARC in Harmarville to accelerate technology transfer institution-wide. More recently, we created the Manufacturing Assistance Center to provide research, education and training for the manufacturing community in western Pennsylvania.

Let me give two examples of how University research in biotechnology has led to two spin-off companies within the past year. One is Geneic Sciences, Inc., now developing a novel therapy with "facilitating cells" to prevent transplant rejection. A second example is Corixa, Inc., a developer of cancer vaccines based on technology devised at Pitt and other universities. Both companies show outstanding promise for creating new jobs. Of course, some future spin-offs will locate outside our immediate region. Nevertheless, I find it most encouraging that our University has recently entered into 13 new licenses of technology to industry which can only enhance the entrepreneurial climate locally. We are also determined to strengthen our efforts in transferring research into goods and services. We have appointed a new director for the University Office of Technology Transfer. We have an agreement with a national venture capital firm to assist start-up firms, and we are emphasizing new cross-institutional collaborations to stimulate spin-off opportunities. While we look to the future of technology transfer, it is also important to recognize the extraordinary dimension of our biomedical research here and now. Consider that we attract $16 million in industry-sponsored biomedical research. Add to that $150 million that is federally-sponsored. The result is a continuing source of new jobs in the Pittsburgh region. An added benefit is that the size of this external funding attracts venture capitalists who will invest in the new companies we create. The link between a great research university and the economic vitality of its region will only intensify in the future. It is imperative that we strengthen our capacities of technology transfer for the good of our University and for the good of the people, here in western Pennsylvania, and nationwide.

J. Dennis O'Connor

Filed under: Feature,Volume 27 Issue 7

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