The local biotechnology research network envisioned by MiniMed Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Alfred Mann might be expanding nationwide.
In addition to biotech institutes at USC and UCLA, Mann revealed last week that he is in preliminary discussions for a facility at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, as well as a venture involving the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.
"Hopefully we'll have something with these (schools) in the near future," said Mann, 73. "A lot of other schools are coming to me as well, but I want to see how these go first."
A donation to these universities at the $100 million level would have a profound impact on the quality of biomedical research nationally, according to Eric Guilbeau, president of the Biomedical Engineering Society and a professor at Arizona State University.
"That much money exceeds the entire research fund of some major universities," Guilbeau said. "When donations of that type come in, it shows that industry realizes the potential impact biomedical engineering can have on health care in the future."
But Ahmed Enany, executive director of the Southern California Biomedical Council, wishes that Mann would exclude universities outside of Southern California from his planned donations.
"I really hate to see the money go outside of L.A.," he said. "What he did here is unprecedented. I know he has a close relationship with those institutions but I think the money is better spent here."
Officials at Harvard and MIT declined to comment on the specifics of the negotiations.
Dennis O'Shea, a spokesman for Johns Hopkins, would only say that Mann "is a longtime donor to Hopkins and we have stayed in contact."
Last year, Mann donated $100 million to USC to launch an institute that would focus on turning biomedical research into real-world products. At the same time, he started negotiations to give another $100 million for a research program at UCLA a proposal that he now believes will be approved by the start of the 2000 school year.
Mann said the structure of the proposed institutes back East could follow the same model as the one being set up at USC.
Under that formula, USC would receive 30 percent of the royalties from patents for any product that gets its start at the Alfred E. Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering at USC and then makes it to market. The school's Mann Institute will keep 45 percent to continue funding its research, and the remaining 25 percent will revert to Mann's non-profit think tank, which is sponsoring the $100 million donations in the first place.
Royalties on high-tech patents have proven very profitable at other universities, with some schools earning tens of millions of dollars annually on the innovations that were developed on campus.
David D'Argenio, chairman of the biomedical engineering department at USC and co-director of the university's Biomedical Simulations Resource Center, said early plans for the Mann Institute at USC call for the center to focus on creating devices for people with impaired neurological systems.
"A faculty member will be able to prototype the idea and test it and move it closer to the marketplace," he said. "The revenue wouldn't be as big if the product is licensed out at the idea stage, versus after it has been tested and developed."
Although plans remain preliminary, the Mann Institute would be housed alongside the biomedical engineering department in a new 300,000-square-foot building on the west side of USC's campus, D'Argenio said. Funding for this building will not come from Mann, he said, but from other university resources.
When completed, the institute will have 75 professional and technical staff members and 25 people on faculty. Most faculty members will come from various USC departments, while others will be recruited from other universities.
With Mann's donation to USC signed, sealed and delivered, what is taking UCLA so long to agree on a deal?
"We're public, they're private," said UCLA Health Sciences spokesman David Langness. "We're subject to public disclosure, to the state and ultimately to the voters."
Mann is taking the delay in stride. "Public universities have greater levels of bureaucracy. I don't think there's anything (in the UCLA negotiations) that's going to be a deal stopper," he said.
Langness said the university is taking exacting measures to ensure that the intellectual property rights of its faculty will be maintained. "The scientists here, by and large, understand that in an agreement of this magnitude, we have to take the time to make sure everyone is protected properly," he said.
With the USC institute underway and UCLA apparently about to get on board, Mann is optimistic about the future of biotech in the Los Angeles area.
"I think all of Southern California is really working hard to encourage the development of biomedical technology here," he said. "There are a lot of young companies that are getting underway and that's very encouraging."
After getting a start in aerospace, Mann made the move to the biomedical industry, specifically focusing on implantable devices for the chronically ill precisely the kind of product he hopes the institute at USC will churn out.
He founded Pacesetter Inc., and turned it into one of the world's largest producers of cardiac pacemakers. He sold the company in 1985 for $150 million. Mann, who has 14 patents in his own name, has an estimated net worth of $700 million.
Mann is working with Cal State Northridge to move the operations of two of his companies, MiniMed and Advanced Bionics Corp., from Sylmar to an $85 million "biotech complex" on a section of the campus.
MiniMed produces portable insulin pumps for diabetics and Advanced Bionics Corp. develops cochlear implants to assist those with hearing loss. In addition, Mann has a major stake in Medical Research Group, a private company that is working to develop an artificial pancreas.
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