TenU is the minimalist name for an ambitious transatlantic effort that brings together ten leading university technology transfer offices to leverage their combined knowledge on how best to use cutting edge research outcomes to tackle global challenges. TenU’s members are Cambridge (UK), Columbia (USA), Edinburgh (UK), Imperial College London (UK), Leuven (Belgium), Manchester (UK), MIT (USA), Stanford (USA), Oxford (UK), and University College London (UK).

TenU was formed to 1) capture experiences and insight of leading technology transfer offices and 2) share these with UK and US higher education communities and governments in order to increase the societal impact of research.

Capturing experiences and insights: the impact of TTOs in times of COVID-19

One key area that TenU will address over the next few months is metrics. Like many in the knowledge exchange community, TenU members agree that easily tracked data, such as the number of patents issued, licences signed, spin-outs launched, and income generated do not deliver the full picture.

Although useful in some ways, quantitative measures fail to capture the real impact TTOs have on society. The response of university TTOs to the COVID-19 crisis provides many examples of this. For instance, members of TenU created non-exclusive, royalty-free licences for improved types of face protection to be used by health care workers (see Columbia Covid-19 Face Shields, MIT Covid-19 Face Shields and My Mask Movement). Columbia Technology Ventures organized the manufacturing, promotion, and distribution of face shields, and, within a week, had scaled up production to 50,000 per day in order to deliver their first order of 1.5 million shields to New York City hospitals.

Other TenU members have supported spin-outs that have provided the basis for rapid testing technologies (see Diagnostics for the Real World, OSCAR, and Oxford Nanopore), are creating licensing partnerships to develop therapeutic solutions for COVID-19 (see Manchester Antiviral Polymers, UCL-Ventura, and Aligos/KU Leuven), and have helped raise millions in funding to develop vaccines (see Imperial and Oxford).

Many of the COVID-19 related agreements executed by university technology transfer offices are time-limited, royalty-free, and non-exclusive. In keeping with usual practice, publication of results is key to sharing outcomes to find solutions to prevent, treat and contain the COVID-19 virus. Technology transfer offices have also enhanced the profile of their available technologies and intellectual property which might be applicable in the COVID-19 space, with initiatives such as UCLB’s E-Lucid platform. Universities generally, and technology transfer offices specifically, have taken on varied and multiple roles to address the pandemic. Each of their initiatives have been rapidly deployed while retaining high standards in a period of significant disruption. TenU provides a platform to share such experiences and collectively demonstrate the enormous impact of University technology transfer.

Sharing experiences and insights: introducing the ‘TenU hosts’ series

TenU is holding a series of events entitled ‘TenU hosts’. Initially an invitation-only series, the series will eventually be open to the public. The first of the TenU hosts series, held on 18th September, discussed economic recovery and how technology transfer offices can contribute to this effort supported by policies such as the US Endless Frontier Acts bill and the UK Research and Development Roadmap. Guest speakers included Walter Copan (US Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of NIST), David Sweeney (Executive Chair, Research England), and representatives from TenU’s membership. TenU was delighted to welcome high-level policy officials and HE community representatives from both the US and the UK. A second event is likely to be on ecosystems and place, drawing on TenU’s expertise and that of its partner Policy Evidence Unit for University Commercialisation and Innovation (UCI), recently launched at Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing (IfM).

As TenU moves forward, the most pressing priority will be to talk to the US and UK HE communities, funders, and governments to find out how TenU can leverage its reputation and international network to increase the societal impact of research. We count on the higher education community for support.

Dr Ananay Aguilar is Policy Advisor for TenU. She has been an international strategic industry consultant and is a former research fellow at the University of Cambridge, specialising in copyright policy. If you would like to hear more about TenU, contact Ananay at ananay.aguilar@enterprise.cam.ac.uk.