NHGRI’s Office of Technology Transfer always looks out for the Institute’s best interests

Claire Driscoll, director of NHGRI’s Technology Transfer Office (TTO), often exhorts one of her most critical rules: “Don’t sign anything, ever, for God’s sake—without checking with me first!”

By “everything” she means any kind of agreements with external parties.

“Do not do it! At least not until you talk to Claire,” is often repeated in NHGRI corridors and emails. She is available to help, early and often. She wants all NHGRI staff to know that the reason she and other TTO patent and licensing professionals are here is to navigate the complex and sometimes dubious world of transferring NHGRI-developed technologies and intellectual property to the private sector. Their role is to keep the institute’s best interests in mind in all agreements, large and small.

The TTO is part of NHGRI’s Internal Research Division, but is available to assist with arrangements involving extraordinary collaborative research. Thus, the TTO is a valuable resource for assistance in emergency agreements as well.

NHGRI Director Eric Green fondly remembers his long history with Claire, which began before her foray into the world of technology transfer. “I met Claire (practically) just before I came to NIH, around 1992 or 1993. I was collaborating with her boss at the time, Richard Maria, on a study of a gene on human chromosome 7. That led to a publication in which she and I were both authors. So I actually collaborated with her before I even met her in person!” he explained.

Claire was 24 years old when she first came to NIH (as a biologist in Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) laboratory). She began her career in technology transfer at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in 1994. By then, every major university already had a technology transfer office, but the government was several years behind academia in establishing one. offices. The NIAID office, for example, was the only institute at the time to have a technology transfer office, but now the government has more than 60.

The pipeline flow of federally funded research to private industry now has a steady stream, with government often investing in “blue sky” research. That is, fundamental science without immediately obvious applications, often driven by curiosity and a desire to better understand the world (or the human body). Claire and her TTO colleagues are the crossroads where all knowledge, innovation, patents and documentation are brought from NHGRI to the outside world. The TTO is an extremely valuable part of NHGRI, especially for NHGRI’s internal researchers.

“If you want to be entrepreneurial then leave the government,” advises Claire. “If you want to be creative, stay.”

With advanced degrees in genetics/molecular biology and biotechnology commercialization studies, Claire joined the NHGRI TTO in 1999. The office oversees a wide range of activities that include the exchange and tracking of patents, licenses, intellectual property and other transactional agreements, including Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA). They process material transfer agreements, confidentiality disclosure agreements, and other legal documents that enable the sharing of materials and resources between NHGRI scientists and third parties. Hence the “don’t sign anything without checking first!” rule.

Basically, the TTO manages all legal negotiations that help protect federally funded research from misuse, while providing avenues for that research to reach patients through the commercialization of promising advances, such as gene therapies, pharmaceutical drugs, new technologies, biological materials, etc. and even some animal models. The TTO maximizes the benefits of NHGRI’s discoveries and programs by protecting contributions through technology transfer rules, and these help keep NHGRI staff out of legal and policy trouble.

The NHGRI TTO, which includes five staff members, helped attract more than $5 million in royalty, CRADA, and gift/grant income for the Institute last year alone. That, Clare said, is probably an unusually large return for a single year, the product of well-crafted patents and licenses, much of which goes back in preparation to fund more needed NHGRI research.

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