New Study Analyses Barriers to Academic-based Cancer Research Commercialisation

Results from a University of Kentucky survey

A new study led by the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center Assistant Director for Research, Nathan Vanderford, cites a combination of factors that prevent academic-based cancer research faculty from ultimately commercialising their work. Published in PLOS One, the study utilised an electronic survey sent to faculty at the University of Kentucky (UK) with questions addressing general barriers inhibiting cancer research commercialisation and whether mitigation of the barriers could potentially enhance faculty engagement in commercialisation activities.

Challenges to commercialising innovations

According to the Association of University Technology Managers, academic institutions have been collectively generating more than 2 billion USD in commercialisation income over the last several years. Despite this significant commercial activity, studies have shown that academic institutions face challenges to commercialising their innovations. Identifying and adjusting for these challenges can further boost academic-based research commercialisation, thus having significant benefits for universities and consumers.

Through the survey, faculty cited a number of barriers to moving research products into the market, including the expense and time involved, the lack of infrastructure for the process, and the lack of industry partnerships.

Additionally, survey respondents noted that alleviating these factors as well as revising university policies/procedures, risk mitigation, more emphases on commercialisation by academia research field, and increased information on how to commercialise, could potentially increase commercialisation activity. Further statistical analysis indicated that a significant increase in commercialisation activity would likely only occur when multiple barriers were mitigated.

Is commercialisation eroding the mission of academic research or providing positive benefits to academia and society?

According to study authors, their results suggests that the barriers inhibiting cancer research commercialisation at the UK are, by in large, no different than the barriers that prevent commercialisation at any academic institution. Academic researchers have to understand these challenges and devise ways to overcome them to avoid situations where important innovations sit dormant in universities. 'It would be a shame for a revolutionarily effective cancer treatment to never make it to patients because the barriers to the commercialisation process prevent it from moving outside the walls of academia', according to study lead author.

Though the UK study was focused on a single population of researchers, the authors note that the study fits into a much broader international discussion on what role universities should play in commercialising innovation that is derived from academic-based research. The dissenting argument is that universities should focus on the pursuit of general, basic knowledge versus being influenced by real or potential consumer-driven market demands.


Vanderford NL, Weiss LT, Weiss HL (2013) A Survey of the Barriers Associated with Academic-based Cancer Research Commercialization. PLoS ONE 8(8): e72268. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072268

The authors have no support or funding to report.

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.