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Profit/non-profit partners to carry biotech innovations across valley of death

By David Schwartz
Published: December 12th, 2012

As funding for early-stage biotech discoveries becomes ever scarcer and many promising projects die in the “valley of death” between concept and market, tech transfer professionals are seeking new forms of funding to bridge this gap, as well as better validation of technologies. The hope is that reducing the risk may loosen investors’ purse strings.

One innovative strategy — the $250 million Harrington Project for Discovery & Development — is a national initiative based at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, OH. Nonprofit and for-profit entities work together at the institute to help promising biotech projects cross the valley of death and get to market on the other side, explains Achilles A. Demetriou, MD, PhD, chief operating officer of University Hospitals and vice dean for clinical affairs at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.

“One of the challenges that we have today is that many biomedical discoveries end up staying on the shelf. They never get commercialized,” Demetriou says. “Through the Harrington Project, we are providing a mechanism for physician-scientists to function in a structured environment where they can be challenged, coached and supported to develop their insights into therapies.”

Each year, the Harrington Project’s nonprofit Harrington Discovery Institute and Innovation Support Center provides 10 “scholar-innovators” with $200,000 and industry guidance to help them develop their discoveries. Participants can access additional funds of up to $500,000 if their developments show promise. The center also helps them establish relationships with industry experts and entrepreneurs to prepare their discoveries for commercialization.

That’s the nonprofit part. The for-profit partner is an accelerator company called BioMotiv, affiliated with the Harrington Project and also based in Cleveland. Unlike a typical venture capital firm, BioMotiv seeks to in-license inventors’ technologies and use its own leadership team to move the discoveries into clinical studies. Once the product has benefitted from BioMotiv’s leadership team, the company seeks to out-license the technology to pharmaceutical companies or venture capitalists.

The Harrington Project was borne of a realization that early-stage biotech was running out of options, says Jonathan S. Stamler, MD, director of the UH Harrington Discovery Institute, which promotes biotech innovation, and director of Case Western’s Institute for Transformative Molecular Medicine. “The reality is that investors really have abandoned this space,” Stamler says.

Investors and pharmaceutical companies are looking for less risky investments, and the stage at which biotech ideas come out of a university is no longer of interest to them, he comments. The Harrington Project provides a comprehensive model to advance discoveries into development and help universities overcome this problem.

In its first nine months of existence, the project is performing well, Stamler says. The Harrington Project recently launched its first grant program and received a large number of applications, he reports. The non-profit/for-profit partnership is the first of its kind in medicine, he adds. “We try to innovate on both sides of the dividing line between non-profit and for-profit space,” he comments. “The drug development in the non-profit space may be excellent, but no matter what we do there we’re going to have to innovate on the for-profit side as well in order to be in a position to pick up technologies coming out of academic institutions.” A detailed article on the Harrington Project appears in the November issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, along with hundreds of tech transfer success strategies in our subscriber archives, CLICK HERE.

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