UW’s Gardasil Connection Generates Windfall for Research, Tech Transfer

2/23/09Follow @xconomy

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that the Hall patent didn’t actually get issued until 1997, almost a decade after it otherwise would have under a normal review. That means it now remains valid all the way to 2014.

This is where Gardasil enters the picture. Merck won FDA approval in June 2006 for this vaccine against human papillomarivus, the first of its kind shown to protect women from getting cervical cancer. Many people recognize UW’s connection to the vaccine through the early research by epidemiologist Laura Koutsky, a champion of the vaccine’s development. But what fewer people realize is that Merck makes the vaccine in yeast, with a license to the Hall method.

The Gardasil story has had its share of controversy—through Merck’s aggressive lobbying to get states to require vaccinations—but it has ended up winning over the national public health authorities, who recommend it for all 11-12 year old girls in the U.S. before they become sexually active. The vaccine has now been given via more than 20 million injections to women worldwide. At $375 for a three-shot regimen over six months, that translates into a booming business, with $1.4 billion in worldwide sales in 2008. (There has been some weakening of demand lately as many girls have already gotten vaccinated. Sales dipped 16 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to a year earlier.)

Howell won’t disclose what the UW’s percentage slice of the Gardasil pie is, but many such deals typically involve 1 percent royalty streams. If that’s what Washington Research Foundation is collecting, that means it would get $10 million a year for every $1 billion a year in sales.

This means that for the next five years, the Washington Research Foundation has some greater flexibility to support the work of faculty with entrepreneurial potential, some endowed professorships, and building projects, Howell says. It’s also an important cushion to help the organization transition to life after the Hall patent expires, as WRF is morphing itself into what amounts to an endowed venture capital fund, that aims to support startups coming out of the UW and other state institutions.

Besides helping WRF, the Gardasil revenue that comes to the UW is also going a long way toward helping Linden Rhoads achieve her goal of transforming the UW’s Technology Transfer office into a catalyst for startup companies. I laughed at how ironic it is that Howell’s organization finds itself in such a fortunate position now, after years of uncertainty and legal face-offs, all while Merck continued to make progress with its vaccine.

“It’s hard to thank people for giving you a hard time, but we really have to. If we had been able to get the patent issued earlier, it would have expired by now,” Howell says. “It’s kind of ‘in your face’ time now.”

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