FAQs about Partnering with Industry

What are the different ways to partner with industry?

UCSF faculty can work with industry in many different ways. The most common are material transfers, sponsored research, contract service agreements, and clinical trials. Material transfer agreements (MTAs) are put in place when there is an exchange of materials between your lab and a company or other intuition, and data transfer agreements may be used as well. Sponsored research is very common, involves funding from a company to conduct a specific research project in your lab, and may be highly collaborative in nature. In rare cases, our PIs will choose to engage in an unfunded research collaboration instead. Contract service agreements are fee-for-service arrangements unlikely to generate new IP, which might be suitable when a PI is testing a company's new drug in their unique animal model, for example. Clinical trial agreements, whether they are PI- or industry-initiated, are also very common at a leading academic medical center like UCSF. Please reach out to Innovation Ventures to learn more about these ways to engage with industry and how to put these agreements in place.

​How do I get a Sponsored Research Agreement?

SRAs usually develop in one of three ways.

  1. Scientist-to-Scientist

Maybe you meet an industry scientist at a meeting or by mutual introduction, and you discuss how your lab and their company can work together. At this point, reach out to UCSF Innovation Ventures to discuss getting a confidential disclosure agreement in place and how best to move your scientific discussion into a more formal SRA relationship.

  1. PI & the UCSF Office of Strategic Alliances

Industry partners often come directly to UCSF Innovation Ventures to discuss their interests in funding research or licensing IP in their areas of interest. With that partner’s scientific SRA interests in mind, the Office of Strategic Alliances will often look for suitable projects and faculty whose research may be a good fit. We may reach out to a PI unprompted, and PIs also reach out to us to put their exciting research on our radar to better match with funding opportunities as they arise.

  1. Proposal submission to a partners’ UCSF-wide Request For Proposals (RFP).

A small number of our industry partners put out an open request for proposals across UCSF on an annual or biannual schedule. Application materials usually include a 2-page non-confidential research plan description and a bio sketch. Industry looks at proposals differently than traditional grant-funding bodies, so please reach out to us for questions or tips on how to discuss your research for maximum efficacy.

Will I still be allowed to published?

Yes. UCSF never relinquishes the right to publish. Often there is a short notification period where the sponsoring company has a chance to review manuscripts, abstracts, and poster that will be shared with the public. This simply provides the company with a chance to determine whether any of their IP is being disclosed and to protect that IP if necessary.

​What are the benefits of an SRA?

SRAs are a great way to get project-specific research funding and to engage with industry expertise and resources. Some industry partners might perform screens relevant to your work using their own chemical libraries, use their own scientists to conduct relevant experiments, provide insight into the drug/product development process with advice about key proof-of-concepts experiments, etc.

Additionally, executing SRAs with close partners of UCSF can be done quickly, which means that your lab gets money to start the research in a matter of a few months. For industry sponsors that work less frequently/closely with UCSF, this process may take longer—a full contract must be drafted and negotiated, as opposed to the simple development and approval of the research plan. Reach out to UCSF’s Office of Strategic Alliances for an estimate on how long an SRA will take to execute with your potential research sponsor of interest.

When shouldn’t I do an SRA?

SRAs are not well-suited for broad or flexible research funding goals. Typically, funding is for the execution of a specific research project with date- or milestone-based payments. All sides recognize that science may dictate adjustments to a research plan, but abandonment of an SRA-funded project or a substantial shifting of resources to fund a different project will result in a loss of final payments under the SRA.

As mentioned above, many SRAs grant the first right to license IP arising from the sponsored work. This can be a great bridge to moving your IP into a full drug/product development program and into the clinic. However, if you are planning to start a company based on IP that may be generated under a potential SRA, it would be best to consult with UCSF’s Office of Technology Management before moving forward. If that is the case, your new company would likely wish to license the new IP, but that IP would already be under the obligation to offer it to the SRA sponsor first.

Why are companies interested in funding research at UCSF?

Companies recognize that academic centers like UCSF are at the very cutting edge of innovative research and ideas, which is not the strength of most of our industry partners. To have access to these new ideas and the first chance to develop them into commercial products, industry wants to be in contact with our faculty early on. Certain agreements, like SRAs, will guarantee that the company gets the first chance to commercialize new intellectual property. Additionally, certain research cannot be done in industry, like experiments that require access to fresh patient tissue or matched clinical data, so companies will look for academic centers to partner with to pursue research of that kind.

What kind of projects do companies fund?

Every company's interests are different, but industry is often looking to engage with early stage translational research at UCSF that might reveal a new therapeutic target for a disease. Some companies will engage very early, perhaps providing funding during a screening stage or during the development of a novel animal model. Funding studies using primary patient tissue obtained at UCSF is also a common sponsored research structure, given the challenges industry faces in fresh tissue acquisition and matched clinical data for those patients. Other companies are looking for slightly more mature research, when early research has already identified a specific protein or molecular target that could be suitable for an initial drug discovery campaign. Patient genetic data, differential expression, and knock out/in perturbations to support this target as a novel therapeutic target would be highly valued as well. 

We also have numerous industry partners funding projects in medical device prototyping, drug delivery systems, platform technologies, digital health, personalized medicine, and much more. Please reach out to our office to learn more.


Which companies does UCSF work with?

We work with and have relationships at all major biopharma and biotech companies, and our portfolio of smaller companies is large as well. Companies that are especially active at UCSF include Pfizer, Amgen, AbbVie, Daiichi-Sankyo, Sanofi, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Novartis, Gilead, and Celgene. If Innovation Ventures does not already have a relationship with a potential industry collaborator, it is our goal to develop one, ensuring that your deal is executed and enabling future business with that entity across campus.

Who at UCSF helps me navigate the process of partnering with industry?

Many of the groups supporting the industry partnering process are part of Innovation Ventures and collaborate closely together to develop industry partnerships and contracts. Reaching out to any of these groups will lead you to all of resources Innovation Ventures has to offer.

  • The Office of Strategic Alliances can help guide you towards a suitable industry partner for your project, and we continuously scout the UCSF campus to identify exciting projects suitable for industry partnership or funding. Depending on the size and structure of the partnership with industry, the Office of Strategic Alliances may also provide different levels of support during the negotiation/duration of the project and industry relationship, particularly if the industry partner is a major pharm or biotech company with numerous active collaborations on campus.
  • The Office of Technology Management (OTM) is here to support UCSF's intellectual property portfolio and will help negotiate all IP terms present in agreements with industry. OTM also ensures that you have the right confidentiality agreements in place, so your IP is protected during preliminary discussions with potential industry partners. We can also help you identify industry partnering opportunities, leveraging our network of companies that seek to license IP from UCSF.
  • The Office of Industry Contracts, while not formally part of Innovation Ventures, is a team of legal experts that works closely with the groups above to negotiate and develop our contracts with industry. Depending on your IP portfolio and the size/scope of your potential industry partnership, this office may be your primary point-of-contact for all steps of this process, including budget and legal negotiations.

What if the industry sponsor decides to cut off my funding?

Depending on the industry partner who may sponsor your work, UCSF Innovation Ventures has/can put certain protections in place. With some of our closest industry partners, there is a Joint Steering Committee in place that is 50:50 UCSF faculty to industry representatives. The UCSF committee members are there to advocate on your behalf and have voting power to determine whether a project should be funded / terminated. For partnerships without JSC committees, ask us whether favorable termination clauses can be put into your SRA agreement to buffer any changes to the company that might impact your funding.

Can the research funding be structured as a gift instead of an SRA?

Rarely. Gifts can be an appealing route for outside funding given the lower indirect costs imposed on them, however, they don’t contain the legal language and options for IP rights that our industry partners typically require.