For Industry & Academia, Begin with the End in Mind

Jul 27, 2016

Strategic thinking is essential to identify promising academically-based research programs that can translate to into successful businesses. Universities should execute on their intellectual property (IP) prioritization, thus identifying the path forward that is most fruitful to translate science into practice and increase the likelihood of significant returns for the university, the founding investigator – and most importantly – for the patient beneficiaries.

MassBio’s Entrepreneur’s University Working Group recently sponsored Acquiring IP, a vigorous panel discussion around the issues of early-stage intellectual property with advice for entrepreneurs who are setting out to acquire their IP. The panel detailed pitfalls in filing strategies, difficulties of protection in a world of academic data sharing, and negotiating tips for dealing with universities.

As a member of the panel, I was struck by several issues that are remarkably consistent across the many business development initiatives we encounter at Back Bay Life Science Advisors from companies of every size – from the very early stage of company formation to the Fortune 100 company planning strategic trajectory and new tactical  initiatives to ensure growth and market dominance.

“Begin with the end in mind” is the unifying theme.

In academic technology transfer, the mismatch between asset potential and capital source, structure and business strategy is not given due attention. Not all assets are appropriate to create spinoffs, many promising proof of concept platforms are so speculative that it is critical to ensure that a true business – not merely a lab effort – is being created. We encourage early stage companies to think about this: Are you building a business that is fundable, and formidable or one that will flounder on the rocks of poor capitalization and lack of focus?

Company formation or licensing activities should not serve single laboratories. Rather, whether one is a startup or a seasoned company, an unmet need oriented initiative should utilize a principal investigator’s efforts as a cornerstone to solving problems coalescing IP and clinical scientific strategy across the landscape most appropriate for the diseases in question. Solving clinical problems, in the best way possible, is the goal.

Perhaps the “Office of Technology Transfer” concept should be changed to the “Office of Translational Strategy”, linked to scientific, clinical, commercial, competitive, and transactional analytics that ensure the best sequential match among capital source, business structure, and technology for all. While these offices have numerous laudatory functions, including research sponsorships, for the portion of the university’s work transitioning to industry, a multi-faceted strategic and analytic approach is critical.  

We have traveled a great distance since academic industry interactions were thought to be beyond the scope or beneath the dignity of the academic mission. Our collective mindset now accepts that the National Institutes of Health was formed to help the American people – and by extension, the people of the world – benefit from better technology. Using this mindset to enable successful reduction of science to practice requires strategic discipline and proactive behavior that is still not thoroughly embedded in our academic/industry relationships but has clearly grown a solid set of roots in our biotech clusters. Translating these efforts to a national level will be a great challenge, and a rewarding success for the United States and worldwide Biotech community.

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