BIO Partnering Q&A: Intersection of Academic and Industry

Earlier this month, BIO hosted a Google Hangout to discuss BIO Partnering: Intersection of Academic and Industry. We had an excellent lineup of guests discussing emerging models in tech transfer and translational research, novel collaborations between industry and academia, and of course the pivotal role that BIO’s 1-on-1 Partnering and tech transfer programming at #BIO14 will play in advancing industry-university relationships.

Since we didn’t get a chance to address all of the excellent questions that were submitted during the Hangout, we decided to do a written Q&A with some of our guests. For in-depth discussion of these and related topics, be sure to connect with our panel in San Diego (via our One-on-One Partnering system or myBIO). We also encourage you to check out the Translational Research Forum and make plans to visit the Alliance Pavilion at the 2014 BIO International Convention in San Diego next month.

Our previous Q&A with Kanad Das, Program Manager at SPARK, Stanford University; Mark Crowell, Executive Director of U.Va. Innovation, University of Virginia & BIO Tech Transfer Committee Chairman; and Melissa Fitzgerald, Head, Strategic Research Partnerships-San Diego at Pfizer may be found here.

Mari Serebrov, Sr. Editor Washington DC, BioWorld

Mari, could you please elaborate on “getting the patents right”? Thanks.

The value of most partnerships with academia rests on the strength of the IP. Given global issues and recent changes in U.S. patent law, it is crucial for companies to research that strength before they make it core to a licensing or partnering deal. A few questions for starters:

  • Could the claims withstand an “obviousness” challenge based on prior art? Prior art can be a real challenge these days, especially with the pressure to publish in the U.S.
  • Are the claims patentable in other countries? Each country has its own rules about what’s patentable. Consider whether the patent landscape for a particular invention matches with your company’s global plans.
  • Does the university really own the IP, or does the inventor? This was an issue in Stanford v. Roche, which came before the Supreme Court a few years ago. In some countries, the inventor – not the university – has the rights.
  • What’s the life of the patent? Although academic-industry partnerships tend to occur early in discovery, industry must always be thinking life cycle.

Another area to consider is the university’s commitment to protecting its IP. Does it have the resources and commitment to fight IP challenges?

Faculty taking ideas to market is difficult, due to time, focus, expertise in biz, conflicts, etc.

It’s not optimal for the faculty to take the idea to market unless they leave, and universities don’t want to see them leave, and is the faculty member truly enabled for the live/die realities with starting up?

Many fantastic researchers are not good entrepreneurs, and the contributions they can make in the lab could far outweigh the time and financial investment that goes into carrying one discovery into later stage development. But there are exceptions to that rule. Tillman Gerngross comes to mind.

A professor of bioengineering at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., Gerngross has founded several venture-backed companies, including Glycofi Inc., a glycoengineering firm acquired by Merck & Co. Inc. for $400 million in 2006. He also co-founded Adimab LLC, an antibody discovery firm; Arsanis Biosciences GmbH, which develops anti-infective antibody therapeutics; and Avitide LLC, a custom resin producer. In addition to serving as CEO of Adimab and teaching, Tillman is now the associate provost of Entrepreneurship & Technology Transfer at Dartmouth. One of his goals in this new position is to match faculty with Dartmouth alums who can serve as start-up mentors and perhaps invest in promising research. (Of all the Ivy League schools, Dartmouth has the largest percentage of venture capitalists among its alumni.)

Is there currently any interest in partnering with universities in emerging countries to tackle diseases e.g. vaccines for enterotoxigenin e.coli (ETEC) to prevent severe diarrhea/dysentry?

We are likely to see this more in the future, especially as some of the diseases spread, or return, to “developed” countries. Currently, public research facilities and nonprofits are driving much of the research in these areas.

To answer your question more specifically, I did a quick search in Cortellis to see if there was any vaccine development for ETEC. While nothing showed up for that specific indication, there are efforts to develop vaccines for Shigella, a leading cause of dysentery, and several other diseases associated with emerging countries. The following are just a few examples for Shigella:

  • Walter Reed and Institut Pasteur are working on a Shigella flexneri vaccine;
  • The International Vaccine Institute, in South Korea, is developing vaccines for Shigella dysenteriae and Shigella flexneri, as well as for Dengue virus, Vibrio cholerae, Escherichia coli and several other viruses;
  • Mucosis BV – a spin-off from BiOMaDe Technology, an incubator for spin-off companies from the University of Groningen, Netherlands – is working with PATH to develop Shigella vaccines
  • GlycoVaxyn, a spin-out from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, expected to move its Shigella vaccine program into U.S. clinical trials this year. It has signed collaboration agreements with two Big Pharma companies and received a Strategic Translation Award from the Wellcome Trust to finance its Shigella program.
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