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Survey shows Pittsburgh region's universities exceed $1B in research

| Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012,

The region's universities spent more than $1.1 billion on government- and industry-sponsored research last year, according to a survey released Monday.

The Association of University Technology Managers' 2011 survey includes research spending at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne and West Virginia universities. The amount nearly doubles with the addition of almost $805 million in Penn State University research.

Research spending at the region's universities climbed dramatically during the past decade, partly because university leaders emphasized it.

“I think our university leadership views this as of very high importance. (Pitt Chancellor) Mark Nordenberg and (CMU President) Jared Cohon were ‘Pittsburghers of the Year' almost 10 years ago and that was, in part, because of their civic leadership and commitment to this even then,” said Richard Lunak, president and CEO of Innovation Works, a nonprofit organization that supports technology startups.

The schools last year were among 305 universities and research institutes sharing $61 billion in grants, about two-thirds of that federal money, according to the tech managers survey.

Pitt and Penn State expanded their research enterprises dramatically during the decade. At Pitt, research expenditures climbed from $339 million in 2000 to $801 million in 2011. Penn State's expenditures grew from $507 million in 2005.

CMU spent $251 million on research, West Virginia spent $101 million and Duquesne University, $15 million.

Innovations in energy and medicine grew out of university research — such as the Aquion Energy sodium battery that is slated for production at the former Sony plant in Westmoreland County and Cohera Medical's tissue glue that is in use in Europe and in clinical trials in the United States.

Lunak said Vivissimo, a technology company that IBM acquired, and M*Modal, a company that tapped technology to improve health care records, are among other university spinoffs.

Research from Pitt, CMU, Penn State, Duquesne and West Virginia spurred 18 companies and 109 patents last year, the report said.

Although it can be years before research moves from a lab to the marketplace, Lunak said the increasing research at universities positively affects the region. It can translate into a talented workforce ready to tackle challenges, he said.

The universities sometimes pool their talents, said Marc Malandro, director of Pitt's Office of Technology Management. He cited an energy research consortium involving Pitt, Penn State, CMU, West Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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