"Invention is alive and well in the US, but innovation - the successful commercialization of invention - is in steep decline."

The Trouble with Tech Transfer

Ed Silverman's "The Trouble with Tech Transfer" does not put the subject in context and focuses only on anecdotal evidence. Academic tech transfer offices were set up by institutions in response to the Bayh-Dole Act, which The Economist called "possibly the most inspired piece of legislation to be enacted in America over the past half-century."

The results continue to this day: The forthcoming Association of University Technology Managers annual survey will record, for fiscal year 2005, 28,349 current, active commercialization licenses. Each represents a university-company relationship to develop a product to benefit people. There have been 3,641 such new products in the marketplace since 1998 and 5,171 new spinout companies based on academic research created since 1980, each creating economic activity in...


1. E. Silverman, "The trouble with tech transfer," The Scientist, 21(1):40-5, January 2007. 2. M. Fernandes and D. Miska. "Beyond Bayh-Dole and the Lambert Review: An initial product development and transaction model for the interface between universities and business," Biotechnol Gen Eng Rev, 21:249-76, 2004. 3. US Government Accountability Office, "New Drug Development. Science, business, and intellectual property issues cited as hampering drug development efforts," GAO-07-49, November 2006. 4. J.E. Bordoff et al. "Promoting opportunity and growth through science, technology, and innovation," A Hamilton Project Strategy Paper, The Brookings Institution, December 2006.

Nuffield misses an opportunity

The recommendations of the Nuffield Council Working Party on care for premature infants 1 are more in a long line of simplistic blanket policy statements of resuscitation by gestational age, with almost identical recommendations to those of a report from the Canadian Fetus and Newborn Committee. 2 The recommendations completely ignore the dramatic variation in outcomes that occurs between boys and girls, by predicted birthweight, and depending on place of birth and the receipt of antenatal steroids. Individualized prognostic analysis demonstrates that some infants born between 24 weeks and 24 weeks and 6 days will have a predicted survival of over 80% and others will have a predicted survival of less than 40%. Why treat these infants as if they were the same just because they happen to be born at the same week of gestation?

The report mentions the shortage of resources provided for neonatal intensive care, and that caring for one infant whose predicted outcome may be poor may prevent an NICU from admitting an infant with a better outcome. Surely that is an argument for substantially increasing the resources for this area of intensive care medicine, where outcomes are dramatically better than any other area of intensive care, and where, in contrast to adult intensive care, very few resources are expended on dying patients. 3

The report gives far too much credit to the Epicure study, which was a regional study incorporating all infants born at less than 26 weeks in the United Kingdom and Ireland. However, in that study a large proportion of infants delivered at those gestational ages did not receive active care, making the figures irrelevant to counseling a mother with threatened preterm delivery in a tertiary care center.

Keith Barrington
McGill University


1. M. Brazier, "How to treat premature infants," The Scientist, 20(12):22-3, December 2006. 2. "Management of the woman with threatened birth of an infant of extremely low gestational age," Can Med Assoc J, 151:547-51, 1994. 3. W. Meadow, et al., "Changes in mortality for extremely low birth weight infants in the 1990s: Implications for treatment decisions and resource use," Pediatrics, 113:1223-9, 2004.


A story in the February issue (21(2):18, 2007) reported that Jess Adkins would be submitting the results of the team's work to Nature. He and Kim Cobb will both be submitting the paper.


The caption in the February Foundations article (21(2):84, 2007) should have stated the year of discovery for the Yale Embryo as 1934. The Scientist regrets the error.

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