BAR HARBOR — There’s a brave new world in science. And better understanding how to transition discoveries made in the lab into the marketplace where they can be applied quickly to help people and improve human health means scientists need to grasp the inner workings of the business world as well as understand what’s going on under their microscope.
Transitioning discoveries from the laboratory into the marketplace was the subject of a session at the Northeast Regional IDeA Conference co-hosted by the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory at the Bar Harbor Club last week. The three-day conference involved more than 300 people from government, institutions, universities and biotech and software firms from all over the region.
During a session titled “From Bench to Profit,” speakers urged scientists to embrace the commercial potential of their work. “You need to get outside your comfort zone,” said David Huizenga of Tao Life Sciences. “This requires an at-times uncomfortable change from what you know,” he added.
He explained that in addition to solid science, bringing a new drug to market requires equal parts understanding of business and law.
Displaying an image of actor Tom Cruise from the movie “Jerry Maguire,” he said the famous line “Show me the money!”
In 2009 alone, more than $139 billion was spent on health care research in the U.S. About $46 billion of that was from federal government spending, $9 billion from venture capitalists, $19 billion from foundations and universities and $65 billion from industry.
According to Huizenga, pharmaceutical giant Astrazeneca spent $59 billion in one year, just to get five drugs through the Food and Drug Administration approval process.
“There is a very high need for a very high return,” he explained.
The potential for profit, however, Huizenga noted, is not the primary motivator for most scientists and others involved in the biomedical field. He shared a quote from Dan Benson of Protein Sciences Corp; “If you don’t come to work each day to save lives, find another job.”
“The money will come if you focus on saving lives,” Huizenga said. “Show me the benefit, and the money will follow. That is the take home message to think about.”
He suggested scientists need to school themselves in better understanding what investors want to see. “You have to make sure you are pursuing a problem looking for solution, not offering a solution looking for a problem.”
Voot Yin, an MDIBL scientist who, with lab director and session moderator Kevin Strange, formed a spinoff company at the lab, Novo BioSciences Inc., explained the process he followed to create a company to pursue discoveries in tissue regeneration. His lab uses zebra fish, a species with remarkable abilities as an animal model. “You have to remember that evolution is smarter than you,” he said. “You are not going to reinvent the wheel.”
“There is not a disease or condition that could not be improved by knowing more about tissue regeneration.”
Yin is looking at techniques for removing the genetic “brakes” that suppress the ability to regenerate limbs or repair internal organs in people. It has implications for treatment of cardiac problems, the largest cause of death in the country, as well as degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
He has developed a compound dubbed 1436 that magnifies tissue regeneration. That compound “is perfectly safe in humans.”
Yin stressed that scientists should not think that merely publishing the results of a ground-breaking discovery in a journal will attract the attention of investors or a major drug company. “The realities of starting a company is that finding funding is not easier and is more time consuming,” he said.
“We are all salesmen in science, and we could do a better job with our communication,” he said.