Taking biomedical discoveries of university researchers from the campus to the commercial marketplace can be a long and expensive journey.
But with the assistance of a $5.2 million grant agreement, the University of Missouri has implemented a new program that will shorten the journey and help MU researchers secure investment funds to more quickly bring critical – and sometimes life-saving – biomedical devices to the patients who need them.
MU joined an elite group of 15 other U.S. universities upon receiving the grant from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation’s Translational Partnership Award program. The $5.2 million, five-year grant agreement provides that for each dollar the University commits, the Coulter Foundation will award two, up to a total of $5.2 million.
The Coulter Translational Partnership program has enjoyed considerable success at the other participating universities, where the Foundation’s $40 million investment has resulted in more than $300 million in follow-on funding from private investors and large corporations. MU officials are excited for what the program can mean not just for the University and its researchers, but also for the state.
“This grant agreement provides a wonderful opportunity for the university to accelerate commercialization of biomedical innovations,” said Jake Halliday, PhD, director of the Coulter Translational Partnership Program at MU. “Our University’s discoveries can attract license income or become new companies and new jobs that help Missouri’s economy.”
When a school accepts the Coulter Foundation’s grant agreement, it also pledges to implement the “Coulter process,” Halliday said. This process requires multidisciplinary teams, which include physicians, scientists and intellectual property and commercialization specialists, to work together to translate biomedical discoveries into viable products. The teams identify a medical need, develop a solution to address the need, and then “de-risk” the solution by looking at a variety of factors, such as determining the likelihood that the new discovery will be adopted by physicians and be competitive in the marketplace.
Multidisciplinary teams are not a new concept at MU, however. The school’s Biodesign and Innovation Program (MUBIP) at Columbia has demonstrated that creating teams of post-graduate fellows from the schools of medicine, engineering and business can produce innovative medical devices and more quickly bring them to market. To date, the program has resulted in eight patents pending for new devices, four provisional patents, 31 invention disclosures and several start-up companies.
“Our program has really fostered collaborative research and not only in medicine, engineering and business, but has also involved graduates from the schools of veterinary medicine and journalism,” said Dr. Paul Dale, director of MU’s Biodesign and Innovation Program as well as chief of surgical oncology and professor of clinical surgery. “It’s going to create jobs in Missouri.”
Rebecca Rone, a former fellow of MUBIP, is now the associate director of MU’s Coulter Translational Partnership program. The co-inventor of three patents focused on improving medical technologies and a co-founder of two medical device start-up companies (which are still operating), Rone says “clinical needs-driven projects are going to be more successful.”
“What we’re doing is not basic science, but very much applied science,” she said. “We’re addressing problems that physicians and patients encounter. The engineers on the teams have the technologies to solve the problems. The business majors help take the solutions to market.”
Setting and meeting quarterly milestones are critical components of the Coulter process, Rone said, and it’s a component in which industry is very interested.
“Corporations assist in identifying the key milestones by saying, ‘If you could show us this, then we’d be very interested in your discovery.’ That’s an important feature of this process,” she said.
Interest among researchers and clinicians in MU’s Coulter Translational Partnership program has been high – 37 applications for funding were received initially. The Oversight Committee for the program recently selected its top seven final projects for in-person review.
All are exciting medical prospects and without the Coulter program, Rone says, they’d have less potential of getting to the patients.
For more information on the Coulter Foundation’s Translational Partnership program or the University of Missouri’s Biodesign and Innovation Program, go to their websites at www.whcf.org or www.medicine.missouri.edu/biodesign.