In the 1980s, the U.K.'s Medical Research Council set up a collaborative center to attract companies interested in working on viruses. In essence, according to Stan Tyms, president and CEO of Virogen Drug Discovery Ltd., the center was a technology transfer system under which companies had the rights to develop technology that was discovered.

Two years ago, the MRC shifted away from tech transfer toward incubation of new companies and the result was the formation of Virogen, which was spun out in 1999. "Virology was among the most productive centers. We were profitable," based on revenue from partnerships, said Tyms. "So we got the opportunity to spin out, with the MRC's help, and take over the existing projects we had." These included a five-year deal with Sankyo Co. Ltd. (Tokyo, Japan) and OSI Pharmaceuticals Inc. (OSIP, Uniondale, N.Y.) to identify compounds to treat influenza.