Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Johns Hopkins creates new role to usher life science technologies forward


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: January 6th, 2021

A detailed article on the new Director of Life Science Technology Development position recently created by Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures appears in the December issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, as well as the publication’s 13+ year archive of best practices and success strategies for TTOs, click here.

In a large, busy tech transfer office like Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (JHTV), which handles 500 invention disclosures a year, making sure promising assets get the attention they deserve is a significant challenge — and it’s a potentially life-saving challenge when it comes to life sciences innovations. To ensure none of those potential life-savers languish unattended, the university created a new director of life science technology development position and hired Patrick Ho to fill that role.

Ho and his team, including business analysts Valerie Kinchen, PhD, and Michael Wormald, PhD, serve as internal strategists who perform in-depth analysis on promising but early-stage technologies. This trio brings a unique skillset to JHTV’s staff, fulfilling a critical need to provide a coherent JHTV message to the campus community and serve as internal and external contact points. They also play a critical role as the people responsible for identifying high-impact and high-value projects.

Ho points out that his two team members are instrumental because they earned PhD degrees from Johns Hopkins University (JHU). “They know the ecosystem extremely well, and that is very key to our success when we are reaching out to faculty,” he says. Kinchen and Wormald not only graduated from JHU, but also completed internships in JHTV’s commercialization program. As part of Ho’s team, they serve as project managers.

Project management is key to what Ho’s team delivers to the university, and, as Ho points out, project management can “bleed” into strategy. The project managers are an integral part of ensuring that projects move forward, identifying any sticking points and removing obstacles. Ho describes one instance: “There was a project where the investor faced a hurdle finding CROs (contract research organizations) that could do B cell library screening for antibodies. We identified those candidate companies, and that led to good things to help move the project forward.”

To help in technology development, Ho’s team extends its services to many aspects of technology transfer. They may help with e-filing or educating high-profile, early-stage VIP investigators. “We are everywhere over the map,” he says. “Part of my background is having a broad background in IP, being on the bench, doing business development, so I feel very comfortable not just in each respective space, but I also understand how each space affects the others. And so I think that is another element that we are hopefully adding value for JHTV and Johns Hopkins.”

Ho notes that “a lot of hands touch projects, and sometimes there are too many ‘chefs in the kitchen,’ and sometimes there are not enough. Finding the right balance depends on the technology and the time of the technology.” He offers a restaurant analogy: “If you are in a restaurant and it is in the morning, and that is not when your clients come in, having more than one chef is not a good thing. However, during dinner, when you have lots of reservations, then you can’t handle it, [and] the more chefs the better. Technology is like that. You have to be very nimble and flexible.”

Part of Ho’s role is to speed up the technology development process by identifying high-value, high impact tech opportunities. But how those opportunities get to market is not the primary concern. Instead of focusing on a specific path to commercialization, they zero in on what each innovator needs to move their innovation forward and help them on an individual basis. “We have that bandwidth and power to help spear it through, whether it is IP support, whether it is developing strategy, whether it is developing a relationship with the faculty, or whether it is business development.”

Ho points out that some projects may not be high-profile but involve nascent technology that has exceptional potential — someday. “Developing technology is no trivial matter,” he reflects. “It requires time. Sometimes, developing technology is like producing a good bottle of wine. You need time to think about it, ponder it, explore it before the moment of clarity kicks in for the faculty and the technology transfer office and for its external partners too.”

Some of these projects “could be years out,” adds Ho, “but [we still need] eyes on that project, either fully engaged or at some level being able to step in and step out, waiting for data to happen.” Ho’s team not only watches as these projects inch forward, they can advocate for them within JHTV to keep them from falling off the radar.

In addition to JHU’s commercialization pipeline, Ho is also nurturing the university’s research pipeline. When Ho sees potential in early-stage research, he identifies resources and fills in the gaps. If needed, his team writes research plans or investigates how to get corporate sponsorship. “In a true sense of the word, [we are doing] technology development, but [we are also doing] business development, coordinating funding strategies, negotiations, and everything else.”

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