New Director Appointed for Yale's Office of Cooperative Research
Soderstrom succeeds Gregory E. Gardiner, who has been director of OCR since February 1996. Gardiner is leaving to pursue other interests.
At the same time, Robert K. Bickerton, who was the first director of the OCR office when it was established in 1982, is retiring from his current position as special assistant to the provost.
All three have played an integral role in bringing the OCR to its present position.
The OCR evaluates the commercial potential of research and helps researchers apply for patents negotiate licensing agreements and secure support from business. Since its inception, the office has negotiated about 250 invention license agreements and has helped establish about 40 new companies.
“This is a historic moment in the development of the Yale Office of Cooperative Research, with a retirement, a departure, and a new appointment, involving three truly outstanding leaders all happening at once,” said Provost Alison Richard. “As its first director, Robert Bickerton carefully nurtured OCR through its formative years with stunning achievements along the way. The imagination, energy, and drive of his successor, Gregory Gardiner, have propelled OCR to remarkable new heights in a very short period, and he has brought national and international attention to Yale’s activities. We are fortunate indeed that Jon Soderstrom agreed to take over as director of OCR this September. The shoes he has to fill are very big indeed, but I am confident that Jon will find them a good fit.”
The OCR was established at a time when there was concern that there was not enough interaction between Yale and industry, said Bickerton, whose office in the beginning (1982) consisted of himself and one administrative assistant. The office now has 12 professional and support staff members.
“There was a need for internal and external marketing,” Bickerton said. “There were meetings with industry to let them know Yale wished to interact with them. There were meetings with faculty to explain the benefits of interaction. Many of the faculty, at Yale and at other universities, were uneasy about interacting with industry. There was concern that the university would be ‘eating its own seed corn,’ as it was described at the time - that top-notch researchers would find financial benefits working in industry, attracting them away from the university. My view was faculty are faculty because they want to be faculty.”
It can take many years for a research discovery to emerge as a marketable product or process. One project that was started under Bickerton’s tenure was development of the drug Zerit, an HIV reverse transcriptase inhibitor that has prolonged the lives of hundreds of thousands of AIDS patients. “We licensed Zerit to Bristol-Myers Squibb in 1986 and it took 10 years to get it on the market,” he said.
Zerit has been one of the top academic success stories for technology transfer nationwide and it continues to produce sizeable royalties for Yale. Another major licensing arrangement initiated under Bickerton’s tenure was the Lyme Disease vaccine discovered at Yale. The royalties to Yale and faculty are based on a formula that is similar to that used at other universities and are paid after the expenses of the OCR office are deducted.
Deputy Provost Charles Long said the OCR’s projects cover a wider range than most people realize. Long, for instance, worked with Bickerton, WGBH-TV in Boston, Wellesley College and Yale Press on “French in Action,” a series of French language films developed primarily by Pierre Capretz, director of the Yale Language Laboratory, that remain the most frequently broadcast programs on public television.
“Bob Bickerton’s integrity and skill were instrumental in bringing the diverse parties in this enterprise into accord,” Long said. “Bob was brilliant in those complicated conversations.”
Gardiner, who will serve on a number of boards and as an advisor to investor groups, came to Yale from Pfizer Inc., where he had been a key director of research and development.
Under his tenure, Yale’s portfolio of compounds in pre-clinical or clinical testing at pharmaceutical firms around the world grew to 11 drugs. These compounds included treatments for HIV, hepatitis B, smoking cessation, and several forms of cancer.
“Yale is definitely one of the top universities in the country, particularly when you look at life science,” said Gardiner, who was a Sterling Fellow in chemistry at Yale from 1969 to 1972. “It produces great intellectual capital to start a company. You have to remember also that Yale Medical School is No. 4 in NIH (National Institute of Health) funding, and No. 1 in Howard Hughes Medical Institute funding.”
Gardiner said Yale established the basis for an entrepreneurial tradition later than several other leading universities, such as Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the OCR now has the role of making entrepreneurship part of the university’s culture.
He said one element that makes Yale different from Stanford and MIT is that it is the largest private employer in its home city. “If we’re not a source of new ideas to start technologies and businesses, who will be?” Gardiner asked. “All of the companies we started have stayed in the New Haven area or will be coming back. By taking a hand in the formation process we are able to control the location.”
He said the incentive for professors to be more entrepreneurial, particularly for physicians, is that there is no better way to make a difference in how medicine is practiced than by devising and producing a new drug or procedure.
“Most of the major breakthroughs in medicine have occurred in university research, and pharmaceutical and other companies then took advantage of the advances in science,” Gardiner said. “The problem is how to bridge the gap between university science and the big pharmaceutical companies. When we start companies that’s one of the things we’re trying to do: take science that is not ready for a big company, put it in a small company, and work on it until it gets to maturity and is ready for a big company.”
There is a benefit to students as well. “The students get an opportunity to work on real life projects, on real world problems,” he said.
Dr. Stephen Waxman, professor and chairman of the Department of Neurology, said Gardiner took the OCR office to a new level.
“With his vision and energy, Greg Gardiner has brought our cooperative research effort a long way. And I think that will benefit the university for years to come,” Waxman said.
As the new director, Soderstrom said he will continue to help develop OCR along the lines established by its predecessors. “We are nowhere near what our potential is,” said Soderstrom, who formerly was director of program development for Lockheed Martin Energy Systems. “We have put in place a foundation on which we can do nothing but build. Yale will continue to excel in those areas you would expect, particularly the life sciences, where we have a global reputation for excellence.”
Before working at Lockheed Martin, Soderstrom served 10 years as director of Technology Licensing for Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He was hired as associate director of the OCR shortly after Gardiner was hired.
Yale is just beginning to be tapped as a resource for economic development in the region, Sodestrom said.
“We can use the intellectual assets at Yale to become the foundation for new ventures which will ultimately locate here,” he said.