New Director Charged With Boosting Tech Track Record - Profile

Staff Reporter

Andrew Neighbour was born curious. He always has been interested in what makes things work and then figuring out what's wrong when they don't.

It's a necessary quality for the man named last year to be UCLA's associate vice chancellor of research and executive director of its Office of Research Administration and Intellectual Property.

It is Neighbour's responsibility to bring UCLA's tech transfer program into line with its status as the best-funded research department of the nation's public universities. The school brings in more than $700 million in grants and contracts each year, generating but $7.4 million in licensing revenues.

"UCLA is known for a lot of things, but it's not known for research," said the 50-year-old Neighbour. "If we were proud of it and it was going well, I wouldn't be here."

Neighbour feels he's making progress. In less than a year his office has secured 12 licensing deals, with several more close to completion. Compare that to the entire previous fiscal year, during which UCLA closed 15 licensing deals, only eight of which were negotiated in Los Angeles. The other seven were in Oakland.

While other universities in the UC system have performed better than UCLA in tech transfer, Neighbour said the opportunities are greater in Westwood than most other state schools. By virtue of having a medical school and engineering school on the same campus, UCLA has the potential for interdisciplinary research that leads to groundbreaking innovation.

Neighbour said UCLA's failure over the years to exploit its research is a function of "benign neglect" characterized by a conservative bureaucracy that doesn't take risks and doesn't take credit for developments that were commercialized in the private sector but came out of UCLA.

He cautions not to look for success in billions of dollars worth of licensing and patents. Progress will be measured more accurately in faculty satisfaction and number of inventions. "Unless you're very lucky and hit a technology that's close to the market you won't see a dramatic change in revenue," he said.

UCLA's vice chancellor for research, Roberto Peccei, seems willing to let Neighbour do things his way.

"I will be very supportive, but there's no point to hiring someone if you're going to micromanage," he said.

University background

What Neighbour calls the circle of his career in tech transfer began in 1977 at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, where he conducted post-doctoral research in immunology and spent four years on faculty.

Once confident he would devote his life to research, Neighbour succumbed to the lure of corporate America in 1982 when he went to work for E.I. DuPont deNemours & Co. in Wilmington, Del.

He left in 1991 and a year later launched Start Technology Partnership, a nonprofit group supported by the state of Pennsylvania that helped universities commercialize their inventions. Some 15 colleges and universities in the Delaware-Pennsylvania-New Jersey region paid $10,000 each to belong to Start.

"It was a valuable program at a time when universities were struggling with the idea of tech transfer," Neighbour said.

It was not too long, however, before that pursuit also hit a dead end. He became frustrated because while he could encourage the universities and help them build programs, Neighbour had no control over the end results. The technology belonged to the universities.

So, he reasoned, if you can't tell them what to do with it, join them.

In the midst of a consulting gig at Washington University in St. Louis, university officials asked Neighbour whether he would consider joining the payroll. When he realized the university was offering him total control over an ailing tech transfer operation, he couldn't pass it up.

"You get a really big honeymoon; everything you do is great," he said. "I'm a little bit of a control freak, as well. I like to see things done my way."

In three-and-a-half years, Neighbour presided over several patents, licenses and contracts. Among the successes was a startup called Growth Networks Inc., which developed microchips that transferred data at higher speeds than were achievable at the time. The university sold the business to Cisco Systems in 2000 for $390 million. "In a way that is the model tech transfer, " Neighbour said.

"Andrew expanded outreach four-fold," said Mark Long, the current director of technology

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