Parameter of a successful science should be the number of patents sold
On Wednesday, 19 October 2022, a roundtable on the topic of technology transfer was held with the participation of two members of the Government of the Czech Republic, organized by the TOPAZ think-tank with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the Wilfirend Martens Centre for European Studies. The event was moderated by Aleš Vlk, Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport at Charles University and founder of Vědavýzkum.cz.
In the opening speech of the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation Helena Langšádlová, we heard ideas that foreshadowed the topics for the further course of the event. “What if we make a mistake? What if someone tells us that we are not good managers? What if we set up a spin-off wrong?” the Minister said, based on concerns she hears about from Czech scientific institutions. She then emphasised the need for a complete paradigm shift in the role of universities, research institutes and other research organisations:
“If you don’t try to transfer, if you don’t try to leverage the results of science, then you are bad managers.”
In the first panel, Minister of Health Vlastimil Válek also spoke. Based on his scientific experience, he considers it necessary to expand the parameters for evaluating science:
“If it’s the Hirsch index, the cumulative impact factor, we’ll never get anywhere. The parameter of science, for me, is the accepted patent sold to a company that makes money. The parameter of science is the Nobel Prize, which attracts students and PhDs who pay for their studies and are not subsidized by the state,”
also mentioned the often criticized practice of Czech public higher education.
The two present members of the Government subsequently agreed that the transfer of scientific knowledge into practice has the potential to replace the aforementioned cumulative impact factor in several sectors in the Czech Republic, as the work of Czech companies and scientists saves lives around the world. Minister of Health Válek mentioned his experience from the scientific conference on biodegradable stents, where the Czechs and the Czech company ELLA-CS earned a standing ovation, as their technology is the basis for many of the world’s scientific teams, including all the panelists present at the time.
“And now it’s about the state saying: Yes, nanotextiles are one of the strategic areas of Czech applied research, where we have gone from basic research to products and we want to dominate the market.”
Vít Novotný, Senior Research Associate at the Wilfirend Martens Centre for European Studies, added to the context of the EU innovation ecosystem. In addition to introducing the coordinating role of the Circle of European Technology Transfer Authorities, of which the Czech Academy of Sciences is a member for the Czech Republic, he also shed light on the issue of international disputes using the example of the long-standing EU-China conflict. China refuses to accept clauses on forced technology transfer, as this practice is often abused by Chinese companies to the disadvantage of European companies with which they enter into joint ventures.
In the second panel discussion, two representatives of Charles University took the floor. Otomar Sláma, the chairman of the CUIP board of directors, spoke for CUIP technology transfer, and Ilona Hromadníková, immunologist and bioanalyst, spoke for excellent science.
Firstly, after technical problems with the online stream, through which the director of the CzechInvest agency Petr Očko joined, it was Otomar Sláma who took the floor (video here) and answered the title question of the second panel – Does the Czech Republic have the potential to transfer? And the answer, of course, was that it does. However, when asked whether this potential is being fulfilled, he gave the opposite answer in the next slide of his presentation.
Unlike support for science and research, he identified the primary stumbling block as supporting the process of knowledge and technology transfer itself – moving it from A to B. Apart from the promotion of transfer among scientists and education in the field of intellectual property protection, the motivation of scientists, as mentioned by both Minister Langšádlová and Minister Válek, was on the table once again:
“Technology transfer is not sufficiently emphasized in the evaluation of scientists.”
Sláma summarized and concluded his brisk presentation by adding that although the current state of affairs is not perfect, nothing stands in the way of technological transfer in the Czech Republic.
This was followed by a presentation by Tomáš Lapáček, Director of the Prague Innovation Institute, who focused on the specifics of Prague as an innovation centre as well as the current and future plans for the development of a functional innovation ecosystem. Both in terms of financial support for innovative projects and connecting innovators with individual companies. This was followed by a postponed presentation from Petr Očko, who focused on the national level of support for the utilization of application potential. He then covered the international comparison, where the Czech Republic ranks 27th in terms of innovation outputs.
In the last part dedicated to good examples of transfer, Martin Tolar, a neurologist and founder of Alzheon company in the USA, which is developing drugs against Alzheimer’s disease and is currently undergoing clinical trials, spoke via online broadcast. Trials have been launched firstly in the Czech Republic, which was also the main message of the speaker. In his opinion, apart from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences, no Czech institute was able to respond to the direct demand for cooperation, although the US company’s efforts to involve them had been long-standing.
The well-executed transfer was then shown by the founder of the field of non-invasive prenatal diagnostics, Professor Ilona Hromadníková from the 3rd Medical Faculty of Charles University. In the presentation (video here) she emphasized the essence of her successful patents, which she has been successfully commercializing in cooperation with CUIP. For 15 years she has worked on researching specific pieces of genetic information that provide early warning of multiple pregnancy and post-natal complications for the mother. This information can be obtained as early as the first trimester of pregnancy, from just a few millilitres of the mother’s blood sample. She has also been able to show an association with further complications of newborn babies. As a result, both can be prevented, as we know thanks to Professor Hromadníková’s work.
Professor also pointed to the fact that her own earlier work now makes it difficult for her to apply for new patents, as she originally only published her results. It is very difficult to patent previously published and thus “public” results. But it is still possible when, like her, you work with a top expert like Antonín Králík, a senior analyst and patent specialist at CUIP.
English translation of the whole conference: