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.

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