UCSF Names Lium to Lead New Innovation Office

By Kristen Bole on June 30, 2011
Erik Lium, PhD

Erik Lium, PhD

UCSF has tapped an executive with experience in both academic research and industry to unify the campus’ efforts to spur innovation and public-private alliances.

Assistant Vice Chancellor Erik Lium, PhD, has been chosen to lead the newly created Office of Innovation, Technology and Alliances (ITA), effective immediately.

“The need and opportunity to develop new partnerships has never been greater, and ITA is critical to UCSF’s goals,” said Vice Chancellor for Research Keith Yamamoto, PhD, to whom Lium will report. “Erik will provide the strategic leadership to both support innovation on campus and foster the external alliances we need to develop and apply fundamental discoveries.”

An Experienced Executive

Eric Lium brings a diverse background to this role, including multiple, high-level positions on campus. He earned a PhD degree in Cellular, Molecular and Biophysical Studies from Columbia University and pursued postdoctoral work in the UCSF laboratory of Nobel laureate and Chancellor Emeritus J. Michael Bishop, PhD.

His roles in private industry included a post as president of a life-sciences information-services company, which was acquired in 2004. Lium joined UCSF in 2005 to lead business development for the Diabetes Center and Immune Tolerance Network, and later served as director of the Industry Contracts Division. Lium was named assistant vice chancellor for research in November 2009.

The appointment and new office come as university-based biomedical research faces unprecedented scientific opportunities, as well as a daunting shortfall of funds. At the same time, recent changes within the pharmaceutical industry have made partnerships with academic researchers more important than ever.

The central goal of the Office of ITA is to place UCSF in a strategic position to enhance scientific advancements on campus and extend their reach and scope by building alliances or forming new companies. That, in turn, can help translate discoveries into new or better therapies for patients and attract partners to support innovative research.

UCSF is among the most prolific institutions in the world in U.S. biomedical patents and inventions, with more than 1,416 active patents and 13 novel inventions under clinical development. The first biotechnology company, Genentech Inc., is among the 78 known life science companies to have spun out of UCSF research labs; more are on the way.

New Strategies Come at a Crucial Time

This effort comes at a critical time. Biomedical research is at a pivotal moment in its history as scientists apply the results of the Human Genome Project and exploit technological advances to leverage our understanding of stem cells, immunology, and biological system signaling and regulatory networks.

UCSF’s role as a premier life sciences research institution, top-tier academic medical center and the nation’s largest public recipient of research funds from the National Institutes of Health, places it in a unique position to lead in those advances.

That combination also positions UCSF to set an example in finding creative ways to support science when worldwide research budgets are tightening across all sectors, including state and federal government, nonprofits and industry.

“We must ensure support for the most powerful and innovative research strategies, especially in light of the changing funding environment,” said Lium, a research scientist who held a range of positions in private industry before joining UCSF. “Collaborations, internal and external, are critical for our future growth and success. They provide new insights and accelerate discovery.”

That includes areas of exploration that are not traditionally focal points for the University, such as large-scale, public-private partnerships, where UCSF can harness its combined strength across its four schools – dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy – to lead the design of bold, high-impact projects.

UCSF is involved in some projects of this kind, such as the Immune Tolerance Network and the Epilepsy Genome/Phenome Project. Lium said his office will help UCSF coordinate its approach to such projects, enabling the University to pursue them more strategically.

“ITA is building the structure to make us as competitive as possible for these public-private partnerships,” Lium said. “At the other end of the spectrum, we will develop new resources and partner with existing resources to support individual entrepreneurs on campus who are creating the bioscience companies of the future.”

Fostering Innovative Research Alliances

The new appointment formalizes a role that Lium has held on an interim basis since April 2011, when he took the helm of what was initially named the Office of Technology, Innovation and Industry Partnerships, now ITA.

Key Industry Partners for UCSF

  • Abbott Diagnostics (2008) – viral diagnostics and discovery
  • Bayer Healthcare (2011) – master agreement for basic research
  • GE Healthcare (2005) – prostate and brain tumor diagnosis
  • Genentech Inc. (now part of Roche Group) (ongoing) – 2005 master agreement
  • Merck-OncoNet (2010) – oncology clinical trials network
  • Nikon Instruments, Inc. (2006) – Nikon Imaging Center for basic research
  • Pfizer, Inc. (2010) – master agreement for basic research
  • sanofi-aventis (2011) – innovative research projects, oncology

The new office unifies a broad spectrum of UCSF’s activities, including the work of four current groups:

  • Office of Technology Management, which advises and aids faculty in patenting and licensing new discoveries;
  • Industry Contracts Division, which Lium previously directed and which negotiates and signs all UCSF-industry research agreements;
  • Alliance and Program Management Unit, which supports program alliances with industry, nonprofit and government organizations; and
  • Center for BioEntrepreneurship, which supports campus entrepreneurs by linking them to resources and Bay Area leaders in industry, law, venture capital and other professions.

Together, those units help researchers manage their intellectual property and create and fund innovative research alliances that have the potential for leading to new discoveries, technologies and therapies.

The ITA will integrate institutional support for these activities and offer oversight and coordination to better serve researchers’ needs, Lium said. It will develop new programs to support research and the commercialization of UCSF technologies for public benefit.

The new office also will coordinate and support multiple partnerships that exist on campus, including external alliances through the four professional schools, the UCSF-based California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), and the University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI).

Ultimately, the ITA aims to take a leadership role both within the UC system and nationwide to define and refine best practices and approaches, and coordinate initiatives related to innovation, partnerships and technology. 

Photo by Susan Merrell