Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Fred Hutch used this roadmap to dramatically improve its tech transfer results

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: December 1st, 2021

A detailed article on the successful efforts to increase commercialization activity – and results – at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center appears in the November issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the complete article, or for further subscription details, click here.

When Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center spun off Juno Therapeutics, which has become a big player in cell therapy and diagnostics after its acquisition by Celgene and later by Bristol Myers Squibb, they might have assumed that success would lead to a surge of interest among VCs and other partners looking for more innovations.

Instead, to the chagrin of tech transfer leaders there, it had an odd chilling effect. “The venture community assumed that we automatically funneled anything we had in the cell therapy space into Juno,” says Hilary Hehman, associate vice president for strategic partnerships at Fred Hutch. “We were missing that piece of being out in the world and telling people Fred Hutch is open for business — that our pipeline is more than Juno and we have a growing faculty base that is fantastic and uniquely entrepreneurially focused.”

In its bid to overcome the misperception, the research center made a whole slew of moves that have contributed to massive increases in disclosures, patents, licenses, and start-up equity. The many steps Fred Hutch took to dispel the misperceptions of its capabilities and boost the performance of the technology transfer team (further detailed in the November issue of Technology Transfer Tactics) included:

  • Focusing on external relationships.
  • Moving to a distributed model for the technology transfer office.
  • Educating the business community.
  • Taking a more focused approach to work with faculty members.
  • Increasing diversified gap funds.
  • Diversifying the pipeline.
  • Engaging with industry
  • Leveraging existing resources.

After several years of working through these strategies. things are going swimmingly for tech transfer at Fred Hutch: Last fiscal year, the research center brought in more gross revenue than in the last five years combined.

Before 2015, annual disclosures averaged around 40. Now, that figure is over 200. There has also been a proportional increase in the number of patents filed. In response and looking to maintain its momentum, Fred Hutch has increased its patent budget to cover its expanding pipeline, which now has five times more disclosures, patents, and financial agreements than it did before 2017.

“The number and quality of licensing deals have dramatically improved,” Hehman reports. “This improvement is great for the organization because these greater revenues are going right back into the research cycle.”

She also points out that the revenues they’re bringing in are less due to upfront payments upon execution of licenses and more commonly now from NewCo milestones. “That stream of income is attributable to the NewCo pipeline, because the NewCos are VC-backed and their development timelines are a lot shorter than what you would see if you licensed into a pharma company for development.”

Hitting those milestones is increasingly flowing into revenue increases based on Fred Hutch’s equity stakes in start-ups built as pharma collaborations. “Equity is a growing piece of what we’re bringing in because of the new spinouts. But revenue from licensing is also growing because so many smaller companies form strategic partnerships with larger pharma companies, which triggers some licensing considerations,” she says.

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