Published on Eurasian Perspectives

How commercialization is helping unlock the innovation potential of research infrastructure in Romania

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Research infrastructure at the Research Center for Advanced Medicine: MedFUTURE at the ?Iuliu Ha?ieganu? University of Medicine and Pharmacy from Cluj-Napoca Research infrastructure at the Research Center for Advanced Medicine: MedFUTURE at the “Iuliu Hațieganu” University of Medicine and Pharmacy from Cluj-Napoca

Romania ranks lowest for public investments in research and development (R&D) infrastructure in the European Union. In this context, increasing the usage of the few state-of-the-art research centers in the country is a priority.

Unfortunately, even existing top-of-the-line equipment is often underutilized in Romania. Scientific research infrastructure often goes unused or underutilized once initial research grants come to an end. Rather than benefiting the public, these substantial investments instead become a burden on public research organizations, saddling them with higher operating costs. This was the case for the Iuliu Hațieganu University of Medicine and Pharmacy, the recipient of a 3.2 million EUR grant to purchase highly specialized research equipment in 2013 for the newly built Research Center for Advanced Medicine: MedFUTURE. The Center also received an additional 6.8 million EUR grant from the European Regional Development Fund (DG REGIO), the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Economy. Yet, when the project completed in 2015, the specialized equipment purchased with the help of these grants remained little used. In June 2021, for example, the lab was running just 20 internal research projects on technology obtained through these grants—only 20% of its full capacity.

But MedFUTURE lab turned this situation around, boosting the use of this research infrastructure by 300% in just one year. The lab serves as a case study for understanding how commercialization of services can help other research institutions in Romania and beyond to make the most of their investments in top-of-the-line scientific research equipment and infrastructure and ensure it benefits the public.

A vision towards commercialization, with World Bank support

The impetus for this turnaround came from within. MedFUTURE leadership realized they needed to expand the use of high-quality research infrastructure and equipment to both better serve the community and cover this infrastructure’s significant operating costs. Dr. Anca Dana Buzoianu, the university’s rector, and Dr. Cristina Iuga, MedFUTURE’s director, recognized the potential to do so by offering services to private sector clients. What was less clear to them, was the legal frameworks regulating the use of publicly funded infrastructure for private sector activities, and they were uncertain of where to start on product development, internal policy compliance, and client engagement. That’s where the World Bank could step in to help. As part of a wider effort helping other labs across Romania, the World Bank provided technical assistance to MedFUTURE to commercialize under the Supporting Innovation in Romanian Catching-up Regions, through a two-fold support: (i) clarification of EU State Aid rules, and (ii) business model coaching.

Clarifying State Aid Rules

Upon realizing it was unclear to many public research organizations what they were allowed to do with their publicly funded research infrastructure, the World Bank conducted a legal review of EU State Aid requirements to clarify the potential of using infrastructure for “economic activity.” The resulting report found that most activities conducted by public research organizations do not qualify as “economic activity.” Moreover, “economic activity” can comprise up to 20% of annual capacity without triggering so-called “claw back mechanisms,” in which institutions must return State Aid granted for the infrastructure in proportion to its economic use.

The World Bank also developed the Methodology for Recording, Monitoring and Reporting Economic Activities: Public Research Infrastructure, which now serves as a tool for developing customized internal processes in line with State Aid rules and regulations.


Initially, World Bank experts helped the lab coordinate with relevant departments within the university to build the legal and financial processes necessary to comply with EU State Aid rules and internal requirements based on the guidelines included in the Methodology.

By engaging existing pockets of expertise at the university, the MedFUTURE team was able to develop their value proposition within the policies of the university. Once this was done, MEDFUTURE was ready to begin defining its ‘go-to-market” strategy. The World Bank team further helped in the process by supporting the center to consider their potential customers, services, pricing, and contract arrangements. It was not long until the center produced and marketed its first standardized service offering to the public.

MedFuture’s success

The response to this standardized offering has been overwhelmingly positive, reaching nearly 70 active projects utilizing the lab’s infrastructure one year after launch. These included:

  • The MedFUTURE team signed their first private sector contract with a Romanian subsidiary of a Hungarian pharmaceutical company to support the development of novel compounds.
  • The County Clinical Emergency Hospital in Cluj-Napoca also contracted the lab to support imaging that assists with diagnosis and treatment assignation.
  • Several academic customers also expressed interest. These researchers often have grant funds available to pay for the use of research infrastructure. And access to higher-quality technologies can lead not only to improved research, but also to increasing the quantity of research published in renowned journals, promoting their work at a larger scale.

MedFuture is just one of four labs that received support. The other labs, CEMEX, Labelmag and LiRaCC, involved in the program also developed a standardized offering and made significant progress on their online presence to make this offering widely available. The experience of all teams serves as a model for what can be accomplished by research centers with leadership teams dedicated to expanding their impact and with access to the right kind of support to navigate the legal provisions and the intricacies of business strategy-building. These efforts are unlocking underutilized potential, helping to not only underwrite some of the costs of hosting and operating state-of-the-art research infrastructure, but potentially creating and providing new products, techniques, and health services that benefit Romania’s economy and people.


Diana Rusu

Consultant, Private Sector Development Specialist

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