Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Summers are for Networking – Boston Biotech Edition

Summer in Boston, for many of its native residents and workers, means vacation… or at the very least bearing the city heat for an abridged work week before expatriating to the coastal oases of the Cape, Islands, and South or North Shores. For a city with such a dominant academic presence, summer also beckons a changing of the guards, as the universities empty out of their student occupants only to be replaced on the city streets by fleets of vacationing tourists seeking to capture a slice of this historic colonial town.

What summers in Boston might be less known for are the professional networking opportunities. Though, given Boston’s standing as the world’s preeminent biotech hub, there is plenty of good reason to stick around town. The warm weather and relaxing atmosphere of a summer cocktail hour make for a mix particularly well-suited to forming meaningful connections outside of your everyday work (that just might serendipitously yield benefits for your work).

To get you up to speed, a primer on the summer networking scene – focused on Boston's expansive biotech community – is provided below. The list includes annual blockbusters, as well as a few up-and-comers, plus many more monthly, or even weekly, opportunities to get “out of the building” and leverage the much touted perks of your location in the top biotech cluster:

  • Tech, Drugs & Rock n’ Roll: Jazz Edition hosted by Boston University’s Office of Technology Development – July 12th, 4-8PM @ BU Metcalf Hall. Its 7th rendition, this Boston event is a summer mainstay.
  • Boston BioBreak Happy Hour hosted by LabCentral – July 14th, 5:30-7:30PM @ LabCentral in Kendall Square.
  • Biotech Fun Run hosted by Atlas Venture – July 21st, 7AM @ Kendall Square. Every Thursday at 7am. Follow @atlasventure #RunningAtlas on Twitter to keep pace with the next group jaunt.
  • Annual Summer Mixer hosted by MassBio – July 21st, 5-7PM @ Restaurant Dante in Cambridge. Part of MassBio’s Regional Mixer series, which surveys the Commonwealth's many innovation hubs.
  • Startup Showcase 2016 hosted by MassChallenge – July 27th, 6-9PM @ Innovation & Design Building Promenade. An annual expo featuring the newest crop of startups participating in MassChallenge’s Boston Accelerator.
  • Biotech Tuesday hosted by BiotechTuesday! – August 16th, 7-10PM (Location: TBD). A monthly networking opportunity to mix with others from the local biotech scene. Stay posted by joining their mailing list. 
  • Entrepreneurs Salon hosted by Harvard Medical School Department of Biomedical Informatics – A monthly series, last held on June 16th. Sign up for their mailing list to receive announcements regarding their next event!

Recommendations for making the most of your networking:

If there’s a speaker portion of the networking event, pose a question. Easier said than done for some, of course, but there is work in networking. Open ended-questions invite larger discussions, while loaded questions can be conversation killers.

Introduce yourself with confidence: “Hi, I’m {so-and-so} and I do [XYZ] for [ABC] organization.” Bring your business cards and actually hand them out! Once you've made the connection, remember to follow through by sending a thoughtful e-mail the following day. 

It can be helpful to go with a friend, but try not to get lost in the groove of a familiar conversation when you have the opportunity to talk to people you don’t already know.

Ask questions of people. Talk less, and listen more. It’s better to allow people to ask follow-up questions of you instead of exhaustively cover all of what you do and know in one breath. Don’t hesitate to point out a possible overlap in personal or professional interests.

To some this all might seem obvious. To others this might provoke anxiety. To others still this all might seem like fluff and a waste of time. In truth, it is more or less what you make of it.

More and more biomedicine requires successful collaboration and crosslinks – so getting out there can help not only start conversations and connections, but future projects as well. And really, at the end of the day, what’s most important is you show up. That’s 90% of it – actually being there.

So while there is work in networking, it doesn’t have to feel tedious. And remember, you never know what could happen! Especially in a city as rich in innovative resources as Boston, it’s worth taking the chance.

Do you know of any networking events worth highlighting that I may have missed? Comment here! Your feedback is greatly appreciated. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Broad Institute Symposium Explores Pipeline Connecting Intellectual Property & Innovation

Broad Institute President & Founding Director Eric Lander, PhD, provides welcome and opening remarks at the 2016 Broad Institute Innovation & Intellectual Property Symposium.

The Broad Institute, or simply ‘The Broad’, is a decade-old biomedical and genomic research powerhouse in the heart of Kendall Square which has quickly amassed global influence. Its roots span back to the early 1990’s at the beginnings of the international Human Genome Project, a mountain of a scientific mission that required unprecedented coordination among researchers and scientific enterprises. Enlisted for the effort were local stalwarts MIT, Harvard Medical School, its affiliated hospitals, and the relative new-kid-on-the-Kendall-Square-block Whitehead Institute. From this ad hoc assembly of prestigious labs the Broad grew. Far from humble beginnings, in 2003 the institute was seeded with $200 million by its namesake benefactors Eli and Edythe Broad, who later delivered several more nine-figure infusions of capital to secure its formal endowment. As President & Founding Director, Dr. Eric Lander (pictured), a computational geneticist and instrumental figure of the Human Genome Project, has been at the helm from the onset.

More recently, The Broad has made headlines over its involvement in the development of CRISPR – the much buzzed about gene-editing tool – and its ensuing patent dispute against researchers from the University of California at Berkeley. Court proceedings aside, this is just another of the technological advancements in genomics that The Broad has had its hands in, lending credence to its impressive standing and perception as an innovation engine that ”punches well above its weight,” according to a recent STAT report. Calling on its modest roster of world-class researchers, The Broad has had an immense collective impact and continues to bring in funding by the boatloads to support its activities.

With its running list of accolades, in many ways mirroring the unending string of genomes it analyzes, it’s no surprise that the Broad’s 2016 rendition of its Annual Innovation & Intellectual Property Symposium attracted a wide array of experts from near and far. The conference’s three-day agenda featured strong representation from the business and legal communities, including a cadre of patent attorneys, technology licensing officers, industry leaders, and a retired federal judge – broadcasting a clear signal to those in attendance that ‘science alone does not an innovation make.’

A familiar theme for us at the B-BIC Skills Development Center, as it forms the basis of our educational curriculum on biomedical commercialization. See our related seminar on Patents presented by Seema Basu, PhD, Director of Licensing & Strategic Collaborations at Partners Healthcare Innovation – a featured panelist at this year’s Broad Symposium.

President & Founding Director Dr. Eric Lander kicked off the final day with a welcoming address that explored the role of intellectual property (IP) in innovation. This laid the ground for the speakers that followed, who added their own insights to the conversation based on their experiences in their respective professions spread across the legal, business and academic worlds. The number of questions seemed to far outweigh the number of definite takeaways offered to the audience. 

Here are a few big questions facing everyone in the technology development community:
  • Does intellectual property, in this case largely in the form of patents, promote innovation or restrain it?
  • Given the prevailing forms of IP protection, is it advantageous to have weaker or stronger IP policy?
  • Should we focus less on how IP is defined and more on how IP is shared through such vehicles as licensing agreements?

How intellectual property is defined, employed and regarded has proceeded forward by a kind of gradual evolution or slow consensus ever since its formative beginnings in Europe some centuries ago – a stark contrast to the rapid disruption revered in the business and tech community. Emphasized throughout was the need to foster a greater understanding of the innovation & delivery pipeline – for scientists, lawyers, institutional and industry leaders, and the rest, at all stops along “the stream that takes an idea from the lab bench to the patient bedside, or shelves of the drug store,” as it was put so eloquently by The Honorable Judge Paul R. Michel. Though the rest of the world looks to the Broad for the state of the art in genomics, it is by way of the Innovation & IP Symposium that the Institute has made an especially grand gesture – by inviting the world to engage in collaborative discourse on innovation, the Broad provides hope that the dialogue, and technologies, will move forward.

For a deeper dive into The Broad's inner workings, check out the upcoming MassBio forum entitled "Inside the Institutes: Transformative Science & Industry Engagement at the Broad" on July 28th, featured here on the B-BIC Skills Development Center's local events listing. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Apprentice is In – Bolstering Biomedical Innovation with Discourse & Training in Technology Commercialization

This April marks the fourth offering of the B-BIC Skills Development Center’s (SDC) hallmark event, The Commercialization Apprenticeship Panel Series, from which this blog gets its name. The event, entitled “Science in the Spotlight: Why Media Training Matters,” scheduled for April 14th, 4-7PM at Massachusetts General Hospital, will highlight the importance of communicating science to the general public for the advancement of researchers’ science and careers. As in the past, the talk is free and open to the public, though will predominantly cater to Boston’s prominent biomedical community – particularly investigators, clinicians, and institutional leadership.

Since the B-BIC SDC inaugural kick-off event in the fall of 2014 – the first panel in the Series on “Faculty Perspectives on Commercialization” – we have hosted close to twenty seminars and workshops on topics relevant to technology commercialization (see SDC YouTube). In addition, we’ve continued the Panel Series with additional biannual forums on “Working on Cross-Disciplinary Teams” and “The Different Flavors of Fundraising.” Given this flurry of activity, it seems fitting to reflect and recall what inspired us to create the Series in the first place. However, to do so effectively, requires we revisit the SDC’s founding mission and vision, and get to the core of why this work matters.

At the most basic level, we recognize that a lot more than good science is needed to solve society’s major medical problems. The SDC Director, Elliott Antman, M.D., has a long history of leading and growing clinical and translational education programs (e.g. Harvard Catalyst Education). As a practicing cardiologist, a senior investigator on international multicenter clinical trials (TIMI Study Group), and Immediate Past President of the American Heart Association, he infuses the SDC with deep knowledge and a broad perspective. In an interview for this blog post, Dr. Antman stated that “scientific discovery is necessary, but not sufficient, to improve health. A process is needed to translate discoveries into treatments and deliver them to patients.” Remarking on the collaborative nature of this process, Dr. Antman continued, “Academic scientists do not make products. Academic scientists do the profoundly important work of discovery. At B-BIC, we’re fortunate the NHLBI recognized the need for an ecosystem that facilitates the process of bringing these academic medical discoveries to the public.”

Beginning in September 2013, the NHLBI (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) established the NIH Center for Accelerated Innovation (NCAI) Program to support academic scientists in pursuing early-stage technology development. B-BIC was one of three national Centers seeded – the other two are based out of The Cleveland Clinic and University of California. “NIH and NHLBI have long been committed to supporting resources that enable pre-clinical studies,” said Dr. Jodi Black, Acting Director of the Division of Extramural Research Activities, NHLBI. “The NIH Center for Accelerated Innovation is a landmark program that builds on the foundation of existing R&D investments and recognizes the critical role of investigator cross-training to ensure the resulting breakthrough innovations move rapidly and effectively into available products that reduce the health burden of heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders and diseases.”

Although still in its youth, the B-BIC Skills Development Center has already become a hub for investigator education and professional development. The SDC Managing Director, Cheryl Vaughan, Ph.D., Ed.M., shared that the Center is “driven to create a culture of accessible learning and support for innovators and, ultimately, promote the application of new skills to the process of transforming science into technologies that benefit patients.” The Commercialization Apprenticeship Panel Series was instituted as part of Dr. Vaughan’s vision to engage the research community in conversations on key commercialization skills, to provide a bridge between young innovators and seasoned veterans, and to follow up discussion with practical hands-on learning opportunities.

As an event centered on discourse, our panels are designed to bring varied perspectives to the table. We think a healthy amount of tension in the room helps difficult subjects bubble to the top for much needed attention. Without it, how can we even begin to break the mold of what’s currently known and understood? Some difficult conversations generated during our panel discussions include: 1) conflicts of interests at the interface of academia and industry, 2) personal and institutional incentives for innovation and collaboration, and 3) navigating confidentiality during the process of innovation.

A common thread throughout the SDC’s offerings is that “it takes a village to improve human health.” For today’s discovery to become tomorrow’s breakthrough drug, device or diagnostic, it’s important we recognize that you can’t go it alone.

The panel discussion on April 14th is sure to revive many of these issues while exploring new grounds related to media relations. Please join us for what’s sure to be a lively evening and bring your diverse perspectives and questions center stage. Register today.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Paying it Forward – MIT Series Taps Serial Entrepreneur Scientists for Lessons on Commercialization

As one of today’s most accomplished scientist-entrepreneurs, it is hard to believe that Dr. Robert (Bob) Langer nearly missed getting his start in academia altogether. It’s the type of story line that could be easily discarded as a piece of academic folklore, unless you were to hear it directly from the man himself. This type of candid disclosure from experienced entrepreneurs is exactly the goal driving the MIT Fireside Chat Series on “The Do’s and Don’ts of Scientific Commercialization.”

This series is the brainchild of Isaac Stoner, a current MBA student at MIT Sloan, Health Care Sector Practice Leader at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, and trained biomedical engineer. The idea came to him as a result of his participation in a Harvard Business School course on “Commercializing Science”, run by former Vertex President Vicki Sato (covered here by STAT), which delved into “the decisions and strategies that make large and small organizations effective at innovating in life science.” It seemed a natural progression for him then, to create a forum in which expert scientist-commercializers can share insights earned from experience.

For these discussions to bear fruit, they hinge heavily on having compelling questions from the audience and a comfortable, informal setting. It is designed to be like an engaging conversation between two friends in their living room, except in this case, the living room happens to be the main amphitheater at the Broad Institute, packed with onlookers hungry for tips. Bill Aulet, Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, experienced founder, and MIT Trust Center Managing Director, serves as the armchair moderator, and according to Isaac, “has a way of getting people talking” during these informal chats.

Here is a recap of a very animated fireside chat with Bob Langer. (Setting the scene: a digitally projected fireplace flickers in the background):

  • DO – Take Risks in Tirelessly Pursuing Your Passion – In his words, "pursue what makes you happy." For Dr. Langer, that starts with basic science discovery. In a 2012 New York Times articleH. Kent Bowen, Professor Emeritus of Harvard Business School, who authored a 2004 case study on the Langer Lab, divulges that “Bob is not consumed with any one company. His mission is to create the idea,” which can serve as fodder for industry to further develop into life-saving therapies. Dr. Langer remarked during his talk that fairly early on in his career he recognized the value of startup companies compared to large companies – to a large company, his licensed technology may be just one of many in their development portfolio, while the startup might be focused solely on making that one technology work. After receiving his doctorate in chemical engineering, Dr. Langer turned down some twenty job offers from oil companies, whose missions weren’t of much interest to him, to pursue his academic and clinical passions.

  • DO – Celebrate & Encourage Teamwork – For a man that has over a thousand patents and a thousand publications to his name, his greatest accomplishment of all might be the assemblage of the world’s largest biomedical laboratory. Over the years, to effectively shepherd new biomedical technologies across commercialization’s infamous “Valley of Death” between early-stage development and potential patient benefit – a stretch of road where so many technologies fail – he’s relied on a cadre of industry partners, academic colleagues and apprentices. He estimates that he’s had over 270 lab members to date, between the post-docs and students who come to him for training in today’s cutting edge bioengineering technology and techniques. His trust in the process and in other people to carry forward his vision has served to multiply his downstream impact: it’s estimated that he’s touched over two billion lives through medical innovations that have their roots in his lab.

  • DO - Effectively Manage Time – Dr. Langer, to his credit, somehow manages to balance all of his competing responsibilities – between his research, industry advising, teaching and mentoring. Along with his illustrious track record of scientific impact, he has amassed an equally notable reputation for always being available, as he responds to outreach from students and colleagues alike with lightning speed at all hours of the day. Could his greatest triumph be tapping into a previously unknown 25th hour in the day? The same New York Times article (2012) on the Langer Lab sheds some light on his daily planner, stating that “he spends about eight hours a week working on companies that come out of his lab. Of the 25 that he helped start, he serves on the boards of 12 and is an informal adviser to 4.”

  • DO – Seek Guidance & Mentorship (*Apprenticeship) – As Dr. Langer recounted, Dr. Judah Folkman, a renowned surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital and member of the faculty at Harvard Medical School, through his sheer persistence, showed anything is possible. He served as an inspiration to those getting their start in his lab, like Langer, who would later model themselves and their careers after him. *A topic for a future blog post!

Dr. Langer seemed to have an impeccable ability for seeing the bright side of things – though he turned out to be a human treasure trove of interesting pieces of science history! So in place of “Commercialization Don’ts”, we’ll instead have an installment of ‘FUN FACTS’:
  • In 1975, at the time Bob Langer was getting his start in academia, Dr. Judah Folkman, then at Harvard, had just inked a record $23M industrial grant from Monsanto to support his cancer research. In the wake of Dr. Folkman’s historic commercial deal, the tides of academic-industry R&D collaborations began to change.
  • In 1980, The Bayh-Dole Act opened the floodgates for academic innovators and institutions to take ownership in the form of patents over intellectual property developed with the support of government funds. The patented technology could then be licensed to industry to be commercialized, ushering in a new age of innovation.

Next up in the MIT Fireside Chat Series on Commercializing Science:

James Collins, PhD, Termeer Professor of Bioengineering at MIT, Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute, and Member of the Broad Institute – “Founder of the field of synthetic biology and a pioneer in systems biology.”

Date/Time: Friday, February 26, 2016, 12-1PM. REGISTER!

Location: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 45 Carleton Street, Building E25-111, Cambridge, MA 02142. (MIT campus map)

Event Description: “Dr. Collins will address questions around his experience in turning scientific discoveries into real biomedical impact, including the founding of Synlogic, Sample6, and EnBiotix. Event will be moderated by Bill Aulet. Please Tweet questions to @billaulet ahead of the event.”