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.