Execs hired to commercialize LI science discoveries

Teri Willey, who has been hired to oversee Teri Willey, who has been hired to oversee efforts to spin scientific discoveries into businesses, at the Cold Spring Harbor Lab. (Sept. 6, 2013) Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Stony Brook University, two of Long Island's most prestigious research institutions, are intensifying efforts to spin discoveries into products, hoping scientific breakthroughs will lead to commercial blockbusters.

The institutions have both hired executives in recent weeks who specialize in working with researchers to move ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace, joining a growing movement to tap the economic potential of science.

"Quite often our scientists' discoveries open up enormous numbers of doors and opportunities," Cold Spring Harbor president and chief executive Bruce W. Stillman said.

Laboratories have long pushed to commercialize their work to generate income and broaden their impact. The strategy, however, has become increasingly popular as federal budget cuts have left institutions struggling for funds.

Teri Willey joined Cold Spring Harbor this month as a vice president to direct commercialization, marking the first time the lab will have an executive dedicated full time to the effort. Her duties include helping scientists file patents, incorporate start-up businesses and strike licensing agreements with outside companies.

Willey arrives from Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan, where since 2011 she increased the annual number of licensing agreements between scientists and outside companies by fourfold, to an estimated 40. Previously, she led commercialization efforts at Britain's University of Cambridge.

Peter Donnelly joined Stony Brook last month as director of the office of technology licensing and industry relations, filling a position that's been open for 18 months. Previously, Donnelly held a similar post at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago. He has also worked for several start-ups.

The two hires are part of a broader movement on Long Island to leverage local scientific brain power in hopes of creating a high-tech economy.

Scientific revelations have sparked major companies in the United States, ranging from drugmakers to technology giants. Locally, OSI Pharmaceuticals was founded in part with technology from Cold Spring Harbor and became the region's most successful homegrown bioscience company before being bought for $4 billion in 2010 by Astellas Pharma Inc.

Long Island's research institutions have gained international acclaim for their discoveries. Yet they have trailed some of their peers when it comes to commercializing those efforts.

Stony Brook, for instance, inked 94 licensing agreements with companies from 2007 to 2012, according to the Association of University Technology Managers, That's more than any other public university in New York State, but it trails many others around the nation, including the 534 agreements struck by Stanford University and the 450 deals reported by Cornell University.

"We have been doing well -- but it's not good enough," said Benjamin Hsiao, Stony Brook's vice president for research. "We really want to excel."

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