The National Institutes of Health believes that the U.S. is missing out on important scientific discoveries in smaller states such as Maine because they lack the resources to move those discoveries out of laboratories and into the marketplace.
It recently awarded a $3.5 million grant to create a technology transfer accelerator program for biotech startups in Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware and New Hampshire. The goal is to spur development and commercialization of human health-focused bioscience discoveries in those states.
The program, dubbed the DRIVEN Biomedical Technology Accelerator Hub, is one of four such programs funded by NIH grants in different regions of the U.S. In Maine, the program is being overseen by representatives of MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor and Maine Medical Center in Portland.
“Why should great ideas wither on the vine because they’re not in Boston, or San Francisco, or Silicon Valley or one of those places?” said Kevin Strange, president of Novo Biosciences, a biomedical startup based in Lamoine, just south of Ellsworth.
Strange, who is acting as co-investigator for the accelerator program in Maine, said his company has discovered a molecule that could lead to products that regenerate damaged human tissues. He said he knows firsthand the frustration of trying to capitalize on cutting-edge scientific discoveries in a state that lacks adequate resources such as venture capital and product-development expertise.
The initial goal of the accelerator program is to identify five promising biomedical startups by the end of March and then start working with them in June, Strange said. The program will provide them with resources such as training, mentoring, networking and access to potential investors.
“What I’d like to see is a lot more of this activity happening in Maine,” he said.
Todd Keiller, Maine Med’s representative to the accelerator program, said it will be highly competitive with ventures in the five states vying for one of five spots in the program. Still, he said all candidates will receive valuable feedback and gain access to certain resources.
An external advisory board chosen by the program’s lead organizers at Dartmouth College will choose the most promising-looking ventures to add to the accelerator’s first cohort, Keiller said.
“It’s all about commercialization and moving ideas to the marketplace,” he said.
Agnieszka Carpenter, executive director of the Portland-based Bioscience Association of Maine, said the NIH-funded accelerator program differs from other biotech transfer efforts in Maine because of its relatively high budget.
Carpenter would consider the accelerator program a success if it helps prevent some Maine bioscientists from leaving the state with their promising discoveries to find greater opportunities for commercialization in places such as Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“It’s really not great if the talented scientists that come out of Maine leave,” she said.