With creative funding schemes picking up steam and nontraditional funders taking an interest in biotech, what can universities and start-ups expect in their right first-round financing structure? At the BIO Technology Transfer Symposium, a panel examined various funding sources as well as the factors that influence investment decisions and the ins and outs of early stage financing deals.
William Tucker, executive director, Innovation Alliances and Services, University of California Office of the President, moderated a discussion with:
- Ron Lennox, partner with CHL Medical Partners; and
- Dr. Heather M. Snyder, senior associate director with the Alzheimer’s Association.
When a university is ready to get a company out the door, what are the main considerations for a potential investor?
The key decision for investors, at this point, is whether the technology is still a research project or if it is ready to become a drug discovery project.
“If [a project] is not ready to move immediately in to drug discovery, then it’s still research,” Lennox explained. “It is still often funded by the NIH [National Institutes of Health], Howard Hughes [Howard Hughes Medical Institute] and everyone else like that.”
For academics, Lennox suggests moving the project as far as possible in the lab.
What role can a university technology transfer office play in connecting funders with projects?
The institutional offices that are successful at connecting funders with new technologies work with the academics to formulate a business plan, and explain the market and how they can develop the asset.
“The quality of tech transfer offices varies quite a great deal,” Lennox said. When meeting with some offices and inquiring about their available technologies, some offices, he explained, “…pull up a print-out with patents, or disclosures, that go back to the 1990s… Frankly, if a patent from the 1990s hasn’t been licensed, yet, then it’s done. The market has spoken.”
Where do patient advocacy groups fit in to the investing landscape?
Most of the funding offered by the Alzheimer’s Association targets early stage technologies. However, some nonprofits are starting to try to fill the gap between taking a compound from the lab to the marketplace.
“We just launched a particular RFA [request for applications] called Part the Cloud,” Snyder explained. “It is targeting that gap between having all the preclinical data and launching a Phase II. It’s really targeting proof of concept trials in to Phase I.”
Ultimately, both universities and patient groups are focused on getting innovative, safe and effective new therapies to patients more quickly.