The University Technology Licensing Program (UTLP) received approval from the US Department of Justice on 13 January.

The UTLP forms a pool of intellectual property and scientific patents from the US’s leading institutions and aims to encourage licensing deals between these universities and Pharma companies for the commercialisation of the universities’ emerging technologies. The program was created to improve innovation in multiple sectors and more efficient licensing between commercial companies and the 15 universities in the program: Binghamton University, Brown University, California Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Cornell University, Harvard University, Northwestern University, Princeton University, University of California Berkeley, University of California Los Angeles, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, and Yale University.

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All of the participating universities already have well-established technology transfer and commercialisation ventures. In terms of these universities’ early-stage drugs, there is a sizeable pipeline with potential for licensing, with over 240 drugs that could be out-licensed. Of the 830 unique drugs associated with the 15 UTLP universities shown in Figure 1, almost 80% are in preclinical or discovery development, according to GlobalData’s Pharmaceutical Intelligence Center’s Drugs Database.

The high costs of development in the Bio/Pharma space as well as the costs of complex licensing and development agreements provides a challenge to innovation coming out of universities. However, collaboration combining the financial backing of commercial companies and the early-stage drugs from academic institutions is a key source of innovation, with many successful assets being developed and commercialised from out-licensing of university technology.

One key example is Viatris’ Lyrica (pregabalin) for epilepsy, originally developed by Northwestern University, one of the participants in the UTLP. First licensed from Northwestern University by Warner-Lambert, the drug was bought by Pfizer when it acquired Warner-Lambert in 2000, and after being marketed in 2004, reached global peak sales of over $5bn a year in 2014.

Licensing out to commercial companies means that the resources and facilities of the Pharma companies can be used to fund clinical trials, speed up development, and finance manufacturing and marketing costs. Eiger BioPharma paid $1m upfront, and may pay up to $21.5m total, to gain exclusive licensing rights for University of Pennsylvania’s GLP-1 receptor antagonist avexitide acetate, currently in Phase II for bariatric surgery-induced hyperinsulinemic hypoglycemia.

Figure 2 shows the volume of licensing agreements with UTLP universities has decreased by 67% from 2016 to 2020, according to GlobalData’s Pharmaceutical Intelligence Center’s Deals Database, highlighting the importance of the UTLP for drug development.

With fewer licensing agreements completed between these leading universities and Pharma, according to GlobalData’s Pharmaceutical Intelligence Center’s Deals Database, the UTLP will provide a much-needed boost to pharmaceutical innovation in the US. More instances of commercial-academic collaboration and out-licensing directly from universities will lead to enhanced drug development and the commercialisation of novel drugs, which would bolster the pharmaceutical industry.