Study: Penn a leader in biotech research

Posted: September 21, 2006

The University of Pennsylvania ranks near the top among universities worldwide in biotechnology research papers, registering biotech patents, and transferring promising technologies to commercial uses, according to an international study released yesterday.

The report, by the Milken Institute, a California economic think tank, compared 683 universities in biotech research prowess as measured by publication of research in academic journals, ability to patent biotech intellectual property, and success in converting inventions into companies and products in the marketplace.

Penn ranked 5th in biotech research papers, 12th in early-stage commercialization of technology, and 15th in patenting biotech intellectual property.

U.S. universities dominated the top 50 rankings, with Harvard first in biotech research, followed by the University of Tokyo and University of London. The University of Texas system scored first in U.S.-issued biotech patents, followed by the University of California at San Francisco.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology ranked No. 1 in turning research discoveries into commercial products and companies, through licensing agreements and start-up firms. The University of California system was second.

Among the top 50 biotech-patent holders, Thomas Jefferson University ranked 20th, and the University of Pittsburgh was 48th.

In rankings for technology transfer and commercialization of research, the University of Pittsburgh was No. 35, Rutgers University was No. 52, Pennsylvania State University was No. 63, the University of Delaware was No. 102, and Temple University was No. 109.

Drexel University was not ranked. Ross DeVol, the report's lead author and director of regional economics at the Milken Institute, said in an interview that Drexel might not have reported data in some years covered by the study to the Association of University Technology Transfer Managers. The report included data from 2000 to 2004.

Technology transfer and commercialization included all university technologies, not just biotechnology, and was based mainly on data from the university technology-transfer managers group, the report said.

Biotech research strength was measured by papers and citations, and did not take into account university research grants from the National Institutes of Health. Biotech-patent data came from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The 300-page report was paid for by Inflect Technologies, a New York firm that invests in university intellectual property and commercialization of academic inventions. Milken declined to specify the cost of the study, which compared U.S. universities and their counterparts in Europe, Canada, Latin America, Australia, Japan, China and other countries.

The study found that European universities establish about three times as many new companies relative to research expenditures as those in the United States and Canada.

Penn, which ranked fifth in publishing biotech research papers and 12th in commercializing research, did not score as high as some of the other universities in establishing start-up companies.

Penn "does very well in terms of licensing income, licensing to larger companies, but hasn't been quite as successful in spinning out" companies, DeVol said. "There's been an increased focus in that area in recent years."

Contact staff writer Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or