Commercializing Yale Discoveries
From the Laboratory to the Marketplace
Since its founding in 1982, Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research (OCR) has built a significant portfolio of inventions and patents — and has grown into an engine of regional economic development. Its mission is to facilitate the translation of research from Yale’s labs into products and services that benefit society.
Dozens of companies have been started with Yale research as their foundation. In New Haven alone, about 30 companies have sprouted from Yale innovations.
Located at the foot of Science Hill on Temple Street, OCR is recognized as a leading force for catalyzing economic growth by identifying, counseling and nurturing early stage technologies and guiding the transition into robust companies.
As managing director of the office since 1999, Jon Soderstrom has presided over numerous marriages between Yale inventions and private investments. In that time, the office has helped in the formation of about 40 companies that have collectively attracted over $1 billion in venture capital financing.
It wasn’t always this way. Until the late 1970s, academic leaders on campus didn’t consider it their jobs to patent Yale inventions.
In the 1950s, William Prusoff, professor emeritus of pharmacology, who is widely viewed as a father of antiviral chemotherapy, struck upon the therapeutic value of idoxuridine against herpes infections that caused blindness. In the 1960s, this became the first antiviral compound approved by the FDA. But Yale didn’t protect this intellectual property.
“Yale didn’t want to deal with patents at the time,” he recalled. “It was pure academic research.”
In the first decade after the Office of Cooperative Research was founded, Yale’s interest in developing practical applications from basic research began to change, as did the research environment in the University and the economic environment surrounding it.
When Richard Levin became Yale’s president in 1993, he challenged the office to energize the University’s role in building ties with the private sector and supporting economic development.
For example, Prusoff and a colleague discovered that a compound called d4T was effective against HIV, and the University patented that use in 1988. The drug, licensed to Bristol-Myers Squibb and marketed as Zerit®, became an integral part of the widely prescribed “cocktail” to combat HIV/AIDS.
Yale now makes about $10 million to $20 million each year in royalties from the commercialization of licensed patents, according to OCR.