Time to Break the Mold: New Models for University-Biotech Partnerships

Time to Break the Mold: New Models for University-Biotech Partnerships

It’s time to take down the walls between entrepreneurial biotech firms and university science. We need to bring our world of discovery to patients quickly. We need to build creative partnerships. And we need to take entrepreneurial risk, which is traditionally not found at universities.

The fact that Jefferson is in the center of all these discussions is exactly what the new Jefferson is all about. Which is why I was so excited to be part of the action when Philadelphia recently hosted BIO2015, the largest biotech convention in the world.

In the very same week, Jefferson announced a unique collaboration with a major insurance company, Independence Blue Cross, to design together the future of innovation for the Philadelphia region with a $2-million fund for hackathons, tech transfer, and “entrepreneurs-in-residence.”

So, here are my takeaways. We need a mini-blueprint for strategic action to transform how we bring science home to patients. We will have to develop creative partnerships to:

  • Bridge the divide between universities and biotech.
  • Give patients access to all their records as owners of their health.
  • Get serious about predictive analytics and population health.
  • Rise above hyper-fragmentation between universities and health science centers
  • Create multi-partner opportunities for experimental therapeutics and advanced biomanufacturing.
  • Build new teams with scientists and engineers and designers.
  • Foster entrepreneurism and risk even in traditional academics.

At the conference, BIO2015 presented a new report on the speed-up of joint work between industry and academia. Industry-university patents and publications have shot up over the past ten years, the report showed. Universities provide core ideas: Industry patents that cited academic research almost doubled between 2004 and 2014.

I was honored to join the presentation of that report. As I’ve said universities need new funding models as traditional support for academics plunges.

At Jefferson we’ve said we cannot rely on “old math” to ensure that academic health survives. “Old math” relied on increasing tuition, new NIH funding, and extra cash from patient care billings. None of that is true today.

The “new math” for universities and academic health centers requires a new mindset, a new economics and new partners. At its core, it means we must make innovation a mission of higher education and academic health.

I believe the time is here for multi-institutional and multi-company collaborations and “open innovation” models to provide academic researchers broader access to research tools in industry.

I have been calling for exactly these kinds of collaborations: Philadelphia and New Jersey can form regional consortia with multiple entities. And together we can streamline pre-competitive collaboration with open, shared, innovation.

It was a thrill to help host BIO in Philadelphia, a community that is taking the best that industry and academics has to offer to transform itself to a nimble, collaborative entrepreneurial center. This is a fun and important ride.

In future blog entries, I’ll talk about what we’re doing here at Jefferson to put these principles into practice and give our scientists, clinicians and students the infrastructure to build an optimistic future in research. This is our time to grab that future.