Entering industry-sponsored research


The view of the Campanile from Geoffroy Hall. Geoffroy Hall is Iowa State’s newest residence hall and is located on Lincoln Way. 

Katlyn Campbell

Breaking into industry-sponsored research is often an interesting process for Iowa State professionals.

Faculty and graduate students convened Tuesday in the Cardinal Room of the Memorial Union to hear tips and tricks from Alison Robertson, associate professor of plant pathology and microbiology, about using field trials and commodity agreements in research portfolios.

During the session, Robertson covered animal product trial agreements, field trial agreements, human subject trial agreements, technical evaluation agreements, commodity agreements and consortia and membership agreements.

Beginning the sessions, Peter Gudlewski, program coordinator for the office of intellectual property and technology transfer, spoke about the different forms of research that one can participate in.

Animal product trial agreements are used when evaluating material or animal feed. Animal subjects generally require Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee approval. For this case, a federally-negotiated facility and administrative rate is charged.

Field trial agreements are used when evaluating agricultural material such as seeds, plants and chemicals. Institutional Biosafety Committee approval may be required for these, however, no new intellectual property is anticipated.

“In general, they can be confidential field trials, which are for material that’s pre-commercial, so if it’s in the testing stages, they may have a confidential field trial that ISU conducts or commercially available field trails, so if they have a product that’s on the shelf and they just want more information and data on it,” Gudlewski said.

Public disclosure without review is allowed for non-confidential field trails, but in confidential trials, the sponsor has the right to review public disclosures.

Human subject trial agreements are used when evaluating non-pharmaceutical products or other testing in humans. Institutional Review Board approval is generally required for human subjects. But no new intellectual property is anticipated. Sponsors have the right to review public disclosures in human subject trial agreements.

Technical evaluation agreements are used when evaluating non-biological related material such as equipment, software, samples and prototype. The sponsor has the right to review public disclosures, remove confidential information and request delay to protect patentable subject matter. The sponsor therefore owns the data and results.

For technical evaluation agreements, no new intellectual property is anticipated, and a federally-negotiated facilities and administrative rate is charged.

Commodity agreements are funded by agricultural commodity groups such as the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association and the National Pork Board.

Typically, a proposal is submitted in response to a Request For Proposal. Intellectual property ownership varies, but, generally, Iowa State owns it. Public disclosure is encouraged with review and proper credit, with no facilities and administrative rate charged for approved commodity groups.

Consortia and membership agreements involve one or more universities and multiple industry members. Membership fees are charged to support research proposals selected by members. The vice president for research and technology transfer has rules regarding establishing consortia, but, with approval, facilities and administrative rates can be reduced.

Alison Robertson spoke about which forms of research she’s been doing since joining Iowa State in 2004.

Robertson primarily focuses on extension work. She works with growers and agronomers to figure out how to diagnose and manage diseases to plants.

“Over half of my funding for my research comes from industry,” Robertson said.

Thirty-eight percent of Robertson’s funding is competitive commodity funding. While having commodity funding, interdisciplinary and collaborative work is desired, according to what Robertson has witnessed.

“It’s very important that you articulate how your research is going to benefit your stakeholders,” Robertson said.

Robertson participates in “spray and pray,” which is a service usually comparing commercially available products in which, for example, fungicides are sprayed and determined whether they work. Raw data and a report are given to companies once the trial is over. This data, however, is rarely published in peer-reviewed articles.

Robertson uses the data from spray and pray in her extension articles, but “it’s very, very rare for [Robertson] to publish in a peer-reviewed article.”

The data is shared with Iowa stakeholders at field days through extension newsletters and one-on-one instances.

Companies often approach Robertson at extension meetings to agree on research she can do for them. Her reports are then given to the companies when finished. This research will then be placed in peer-reviewed publications.

Robertson said, “relationships are very important,” when working with industry and commodity.

Mutual respect and back scratching are also required to have an honest relationship with industry professionals.

Despite the outcomes of the research, “you don’t need to sell your soul,” Robertson said.