Chief Business Officer, MassBio
Massachusetts is home to five of the top six NIH-funded hospitals and some of the top life science companies, and we can state medical innovation and scientific research is at an all-time high.
However, it often takes decades to translate scientific research into therapies that will benefit patients, and, often, even the best science can get stuck inside research institutions with no clear pathway to commercialization. We can help accelerate the process by facilitating academia/industry collaboration, and promoting mentorship of aspiring life science entrepreneurs.
Several trends are creating more opportunities and hurdles for converting great science to patient benefit. A positive trend is that major pharma companies are embracing external innovation and expanding pipelines by partnering with innovative biotechs and academia. We have also seen many venture capital firms shift to a venture creation model where companies are created in-house with larger amounts of money allocated to fewer companies.
This shift in company formation and capital allocation, however, can present formidable challenges to the commercialization of cutting-edge research, and highlights the need for industry, academia, and investors to collaborate, and expand the scope and search for innovative ideas.
Academia and industry are critical ingredients in a healthy ecosystem. Academia is known for cutting-edge research, however, academia’s mission and lack of funding make it difficult to undertake the translation efforts that are essential to converting research to therapies.
Industry possesses the capital and the interdisciplinary teams required for translation, but needs greater access to groundbreaking research. Industry also tends to be more interested in performing less research and affecting more evolution — a successful collaboration would integrate respective efforts.
In fact, a recent MassBio survey highlighted the common interest and benefit in collaboration while also finding that significant gaps remain. Listening closely to academic and industry partners, MassBio recently launched the first Massachusetts Academic-Industry Roundtable Series to define best practices and catalyze academic-industry collaboration, and create better pathways to help ensure the best research migrates from “bench” to “bedside”.
Mentorship programs, like MassBio’s MassCONNECT program, are also important catalysts to early-stage entrepreneurs. They connect aspiring entrepreneurs to industry experienced mentors, and the deep reservoir of knowledge and talent in the Massachusetts ecosystem.
The MassCONNECT mentor base is like the “Wikipedia of Life Sciences,” and as a MassCONNECT mentor for the past 10 years, I have often seen examples where mentors have helped entrepreneurs avoid repeating experiments that have already been done, and learning lessons that have already been learned. These mentors play a vital role in helping entrepreneurs perform elegant pivots, dramatic transformations, and, in some cases, fast failures.
Access to mentors gives first-time entrepreneurs an unparalleled opportunity to leverage scientific, regulatory, and commercial wisdom to vet science and define commercial strategy. Mentors also receive the benefits of giving back to the next generation and opportunities to get an early view of cutting-edge innovation.
The life sciences industry has experienced incredible growth over the past decade and the global unmet medical need is rising alongside it. To meet that need, the legacy roles and models of academia, industry, investors, and other stakeholders will need to blur and evolve.
As an industry, we have achieved great success and learned many lessons over the past several decades. Among the most important are the need to keep patients at the center of everything we do and continue helping academia, industry, and entrepreneurs navigate to the new reality to swiftly bring the next generation of medicine to patients.
The path from “bench” to “bedside” is a long road paved with great intentions. It is now our responsibility to commit to widening that path for entrepreneurs and to create a better roadmap for academia.