From the Director: COVID-19’s Impact on Technology Transfer

Todd Sherer, PhD is the Associate VP for Research and Executive Director of the Emory Office of Technology Transfer. In this article, Todd Sherer discusses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the technology transfer industry and on the Emory Office of Technology Transfer specifically.

Humankind has longed for better ways of doing things for centuries.  More recently, this phenomenon to make products that solve problems, as well as to create jobs and wealth, has been termed the “innovation economy”.  The demand for technology innovation is global, and there is always the desire to make people healthier and happier. However, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic came with a new sense of urgency that dramatically changed the way technology innovation happens. The pandemic provided glaring examples of how a sense of urgency arising from a sense of fear could have a positive impact on funding and the acceleration of timelines for bringing new products to market.

“That is exciting because it has torn down some of the traditional and conventional thinking around timeline and investments. We realize now that things can — and should — move faster,” said Todd Sherer, the Executive Director of the Emory Office of Technology Transfer. “It is maddening that all life-saving therapies don’t move as fast as the COVID therapies,” he said.

Todd Sherer Photo

Todd Sherer, PhD, CLP, RTTP

One of the major adjustments for the Emory Office of Technology Transfer during the pandemic is that work went completely remote. “Technology transfer and commercialization are things that rely heavily on human contact,” explained Sherer, “People talking to other people, meeting other people, those connections and collisions are critically important for making the system work.” Emory OTT, much like other offices globally, was concerned about whether they could work effectively to commercialize new innovations with a fully remote workforce. “I think we proved that yes, we can,” Sherer said.

Another major change in the profession was the increased sense of urgency for innovations related to COVID-19, such as therapeutics and diagnostics. Pandemic-related innovations were prioritized during this time to accelerate their development. Although there were financial challenges that arose in technology transfer during the pandemic, there were also record levels of funds made available from the federal government to help push innovation forward.

Staff retention and recruitment experienced challenges during this time as well, as the pandemic created a very unstable job market. “It hit us in technology transfer the same way that it hit the rest of the world. We are all being impacted by this period of the great resignation,” said Sherer.

“Technology transfer provides good background training on intellectual property and how new ideas get moved to the marketplace,” explained Sherer, “One of the things we are doing at Emory to encourage staff retention is creating hybrid work environments.”  This makes it easier for offices to retain and recruit staff because potential employees often want that flexibility that a remote environment provides. Another thing OTT is focused on to boost staff retainment is encouraging people to rebalance their work and personal lives. Throughout the pandemic, people have become tired and burnt out and are looking for ways to better balance their professional and personal lives.

What technology transfer witnessed and experienced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic proved that it was possible to find funding and accelerated timelines for commercializing new innovations. The challenge moving forward is to push more technologies down an accelerated path. There are countless other diseases and afflictions that could benefit from similar accelerated funding and timelines. “It is imperative that we find new solutions for them too,” Sherer said. The hope for the future of technology transfer is to apply the lessons learned during the pandemic to improve the future of technology commercialization.

From the Director: Looking Ahead in 2020

What priorities is OTT focused on for 2020? These two are at the top of the list a) program review and b) process improvement.

Our top priority in 2020 is to systematically review our overall program that is focused on IP, licensing, marketing, startups, and industry partnerships. The timing is right for us to conduct a review to assure that we continue to implement best practices in a rapidly changing world. Over the past 5 years there has been many changes to the Emory innovation ecosystem, the larger ecosystem around us, and growth in the research enterprise. We want to assure that our programs align with current needs of the university, faculty, and those of our partners.

We will also maintain a strong focus on process improvement. This has and will continue to be a major effort for the eleven offices that make up the Office of Research Administration. Improving processes is central to our ability to manage increased workloads and attempt to meet the support that our researchers need to continue to grow research funding. Emory’s ORA has created a special Tiger Team of individuals to help assure that we deliver on commitments to formally address process improvement across research administration, including technology transfer.

– Todd Sherer

From the Director: Guest Post – Dean as Innovator

This is a guest post from Vikas Sukhatme the Woodruff Professor of Medicine, dean of the Emory School of Medicine, and chief academic officer of Emory Healthcare. He came to Emory in late 2017 from Harvard Medical School, where he was chief academic officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and the Victor J. Aresty Professor of Medicine. These are excerpts from a broader interview:

How has your own research evolved over time?

I started out as a basic scientist, asking questions about biology and gene regulation in particular. That has changed in the sense that I now am more of a translational researcher—I like to look for the applications of what I might discover or do. What I really enjoy most is connecting the dots—finding connections, between clinical problems and scientific advances within an area and, especially, across areas.

How important is innovation at an academic medical center like Emory, and what are its primary drivers?

Innovation is a key part of what I and many others in the School of Medicine would like to see as a hallmark of the school. And I’m making no bones about it.

What is most important is that people connect with each other, that they see by working together, we can solve the big problems that are out there. That’s a necessity these days. No one person or one group knows it all. Furthermore, some of the best ideas come from people who’ve never worked in the field. The challenge for all of us is this: how do we drive such a culture of innovation, not only in medicine but across the University?

You’ve mentioned some new initiatives the School of Medicine will be involved in, with partners from across the university and beyond, to foster innovation and industry partnerships. Could you elaborate on these plans?

Many efforts are underway. We have the Emory Healthcare Innovation Hub, supported by the Woodruff Health Sciences Center, with faculty and staff largely from the School of Medicine. That is devoted to digital health and opportunities for working with companies in that area. The Hub is building an ecosystem of diverse companies in the healthcare space that come together, using Emory as the place where they can interact. That’s a newer concept and one we hope will attract industry to work with us.

There’s also the Biomedical Catalyst program, which started last year and is jointly funded by the School of Medicine and the Woodruff Health Sciences Center. We’re looking for novel ways of interacting with industry as they develop new devices and products, right from the get-go. The Catalyst program encourages Emory SOM faculty to be entrepreneurial, providing them guidance along their journey and working closely with the university to establish a venture fund to seed novel Emory technologies. It is also interacting with the Biolocity program in our Biomedical Engineering Department.

A third program around innovation is an interface with the university at large, setting up a Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It’s being funded jointly by the Provost’s office, but also largely by three Emory schools: Goizueta Business School, Emory School of Medicine, and Emory College. This will be largely directed toward learners—students and trainees.

We’re also working closely with Emory’s Office of Technology Transfer, looking at how we can be more efficient in terms of getting our ideas out there and bringing entrepreneurs into Emory to help us decide what is worth patenting, for example. Conflict-of-interest rules have been looked at, comparisons made to other leading universities, and we have made some changes. At the end of the day most drugs and devices are developed by industry, so we do need to have an eye on how to best commercialize innovations. The OTT Office also provides valuable guidance to faculty seeking to commercialize their inventions.

In fact, you and your wife, epidemiologist Vidula Sukhatme, started a center to encourage innovation, is that correct?

Yes, we have recently established the Morningside Center for Innovative and Affordable Innovation, to address ideas that show promise but lack financial incentive. This center grew out of a non-profit called GlobalCures that Vidula, an epidemiologist with expertise in healthcare information systems, and I started a few years ago. Essentially we recognized that there are scientifically promising medical ideas that are not being developed because of a lack of financial incentive. Such “financial orphans” include existing drugs that could be repurposed for a new use, nutraceuticals that are generally regarded as safe, or lifestyle changes. Our major focus in the Morningside Center will be on repurposed drugs and cancer. We will bring to bear the full power of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center, in which the Center is housed, working closely with Winship scientists and physicians as well as those at the Rollins School of Public Health and in the School of Medicine broadly. We are also reaching out the Center for Ethics, Goizueta Business School, Emory Law and Emory College of Arts and Sciences. We are hoping for new treatments to emerge and novel approaches to conducting clinical studies in the community, since the interventions are low cost and widely available. The compact even in the short-run could be significant. We are grateful to the Woodruff and Morningside Foundations and the university for their support of this venture.

What are the I3 (or I-cubed) awards?

We’ve set up a number of awards to promote innovation called the I3 awards, which stands for Imagine, Innovate, and Impact (I3 is actually a branding logo for the SOM!). Some of the awards we call the I3 Wow awards. I’m asking our faculty to showcase their best ideas. The I3 Nexus awards are meant to bring people together—ideally, folks who have not worked together before, around a problem that they think they can solved by collaborating. The I3 Venture awards are for ideas that are likely to be of successful commercially. We have also I3 awards on the education side.

You’ve said that, in addition to transparency, efficiency, meritocracy, and inclusivity, there needs to be a “little quirkiness, as well as humor and humility.” Can you elaborate?

I think it’s absolutely essential given the seriousness of our work, especially work that directly impacts patients, that we have these qualities in place—just to keep our own sanity, frankly. A little quirkiness helps you think outside the box. Humor allows us not to take ourselves as seriously as we sometimes are apt to do. Humility, we learn very quickly as doctors. If somebody complains to me, I’ll say, let’s take a walk and go over to the wards, and we quickly realize how limited our medical knowledge really is and how ineffective many of our treatments are. I would say it’s the single most important quality to cultivate in physicians. Humility also allows you to connect with people because if you’re humble, you will be curious and receptive to learning. And curiosity is critical if you are going to find new solutions.

From the Director: IP Policy Q&A

Many people are unaware, but most universities, including Emory, have formal intellectual property (IP) policies. At first glance it might seem counterintuitive to the university mission of creating and sharing knowledge, but the policies are written in a way that both encourage scholarly activity and the open exchange of ideas while balancing the potential to commercialize new inventions. What these polices say is that if one happens to make an invention that could end up as a new product then the institution owns the invention – but in return, as part of the deal, the institution fronts various costs associated with protecting the IP and gives the inventor a share of the revenue. At Emory, it’s not only a personal share of revenue to the inventor, but also a share that goes to the individual’s lab, department and their school. The IP policy breaks down how this revenue is distributed within the University. Surprisingly, researchers often get excited not about the personal share of revenue but about the research funds that can support the lab that can come from it. This is largely because these funds don’t come with requirements on what kind of research they are put towards. IP policies are meant to be an incentive for the people and support behind innovation at the institution.

Can I divert/re-assign my personal share?

Yes you can. It comes back to the fact that we are trying to motivate faculty as much as possible. Sometimes employees divert their personal share to their research, for at least a set amount of time.

Can I appeal the distribution formula for my technology?

Yes, it is possible, but by and large the general split between the inventors, department, school and university is adhered to except in special circumstances. At Emory there are mechanisms for handling the most common disagreements over a distribution; most often the disagreements have to do with split of the personal share among the inventors. If the inventors are unable to agree amongst themselves on how to divide the personal share, then what the policy says is in the absence of an agreed upon distribution all inventors get treated equally. Most often though, we end with an unequal distribution that is agreed upon among by the inventors depending on who contributed the most. If this is still deemed unfair by someone they can appeal for review by senior administration

Does Emory assert ownership over student IP?

Emory does not assert ownership over undergraduate student IP, unless they are working in a lab or under a grant.

Can/How do I request a release of my IP so that I can pursue commercialization personally?

You can – at Emory you have to petition/request it to be released/assigned to you, and while we do have this happen it’s uncommon. OTT may look at an invention and decide not to pursue patenting. If the inventor still wants to pursue commercialization, we give them the ability to petition to have the invention released and then they can pursue as they choose. Any release/assignment also has to take into account any obligations Emory may have to a funding source, like the federal government.

What happens to my revenue/ownership when I die?

The revenue will then get passed on to your heirs. We have had cases where this happens, and the revenue was passed on to the spouse. It is an ongoing obligation on our part.

What happens to my revenue/ownership when I leave Emory?

If researchers leave Emory they will continue to receive their personal share, although the lab share must stay within the university and is typically shifted to their department.

How can I bring my previous IP from another institution when I come to Emory?

If it wasn’t invented here, then OTT can work out an arrangement a previous employer or former university to manage that IP. This is done through something called an inter-institutional agreement (IIA). We typically don’t manage other’s IP unless Emory owns at least a portion of it, but often new faculty will come with prior inventions, and then they add to it or make a new invention here the best way to commercialize the IP is to bundle all of those inventions together. That’s the most common situation, one where we enter into an IIA to manage former IP along with current/new IP.

What is a scholarly work in layman’s terms?

A work product developed by faculty in pursuit of scholarly activities. What faculty write and publish, and opinions that they put forth are exempt from the IP policy as part of academic freedom. We want to encourage academic activity, we don’t want the IP policy to become a barrier or impediment. It isn’t always 100% clear as to whether certain IP is a scholarly work or not. For example, a book that took $20,000 dollars of administered time at the institution or maybe even had a $100,000 grant supporting it poses the question of whether it is a scholarly work or not and may require a case by case review.

What is considered Emory support?

This can be more challenging than it might seem to define. Someone sitting in their office using an Emory computer is not considered Emory support for the purposes of determining whether or not the IP is a scholarly work. Good examples of Emory support are when faculty are commissioned to do the work, or there is a sponsor who has paid the institution, and this money went into research in the form of a grant supporting the work. Just using Emory resources, like the library or computers, is not typically the kind of Emory support that would change the definition of scholarly work.

What is considered part of my duties?

Generally, Emory owns two types of intellectual property for an employee. One is intellectual property related to one’s normal course of duties at the institution, and the other is where they utilize Emory support. The former is what can be the most difficult, figuring out what is deemed related to one’s normal course of duties. It isn’t frequent but it can be challenging. Once, a biochemist at Emory invented a ping pong paddle. That was clearly not part of their duties and therefore Emory did not own that IP. Emory is only trying to own IP that is related to one’s work (including their area of expertise), resources, and facilities here at Emory.

From the Director: Revenue Forecasting Pros & Cons

This is a guest post from Todd Sherer, the former Executive Director of Technology Transfer and current Interim Vice President for Research Administration.

Technology Transfer offices are often asked to provide projections of revenue to senior administration. There are a number of reasons administration may be looking for these numbers, it could be due to declining sponsored research funding or a desire to diversify the revenue streams to the institution. As one could imagine such forecasting is challenging. Below are some of the pros and cons on such activities.

What are the key pros and cons of revenue forecasting?Todd Sherer Photo

Academia can be a challenging business, there are concerns about federal funding, there’s a healthcare crisis, there’s pressure on tuition, and so on. Just as companies are always looking for alternative revenue sources, so are universities and technology transfer can provide this — naturally the university would want a way to forecast that revenue source, but it’s tough. OTT does not make or sell the products that are generating the revenue, other companies do and we get a portion of it. There are many factors affecting success and sales that we wouldn’t be aware of, such as competition, production challenges, or regulatory challenges. In addition, there is high risk involved in a drug or medical device making it to the market and becoming lucrative. But such forecasting is necessary and we do our best to provide revenue information along with risk and probability information.

In the forecasting booklet what was the process for determining these estimates? And what were the criteria used?

Trying to forecast revenue is only helpful if a company is at or past human testing. There is no magic to how we forecast, we take information about prior revenue, estimated how long until the product hits the market and how well it would do, and then factored in various risks. After this information is gathered mathematical formulas were applied to each step of the products development.

How does the time horizon until potential commercialization factor in?

It’s a huge factor. The longer the timeline the greater the risk, just because there are still so many unknowns. If a potential product is in phase one clinical trials there is a one in five chance of success. If it enters phase three there is a one in three chance of success. It is a critical component to estimating when and how revenue may come to the university.

From the Director: Challenges of Tech Transfer: “Everything is just getting harder to do” – Part 2

In this two-part blog we discuss the present and future of technology transfer at Emory and nationally with our Executive Director Todd Sherer, PhD, CLP, RTTP. You can find the first part of the blog here.

How has patent reform, as well as recent Supreme Court decisions, impacted Emory OTT?

Patent reform and recent court decisions are making commercialization at the university more challenging. I guess that’s a theme, that everything is just getting harder and harder to do. It is now harder to get a good patent. It used to be that you could get fairly broad claims covering an invention and now that’s not usually the case. This is particularly a struggle for universities because we are at the very beginning of the innovation pathway, the research and discovery phase. For example, say a university researcher files a patent for a certain chemical compound. At this phase, they do not know for sure which compound will be used in animals and then possibly, humans. They only know that this chemical compound shows promise in a cell culture. Additionally, because university researchers work in a publish or perish environment, there is pressure on them to publish early results and advance the world’s knowledge. But, once they publish on their findings they have enabled them and lost their ability to file a patent. Consequently, university tech transfer is usually trying to file for patents early in the innovation development process. Because it is early in the process broad patent protection is ideal. Newer patent reform and Supreme Court decisions have made it harder to get meaningful broad patent protection.

Another challenge that has arisen is that certain types of things that were previously patentable are no longer patentable. A key example of this is biomarkers, which for the most part are no longer patentable in the U.S., though they are patentable in the rest of the world.

Finally, a new struggle we face is frustration among faculty. There are faculty that consistently create inventions in fields like biomarkers, and consequently their inventions will not be patent eligible. However, simultaneously other faculty doing very similar work, but are discovering new chemical compositions, which are still patent eligible. This can create frustration among faculty inventors, who are just becoming familiar with the nuances of patent law and creates management challenges for our staff.

Recently there has been a great deal of discussion concerning price controls for drugs, do these discussions filter down and impact TT? OTT at Emory?

Drug pricing or anything that may affect healthcare, how it gets paid for, and how it gets reimbursed impacts the actions of investors. In reality, only about one in 10,000 molecules that are discovered will make it to final approval and be used in humans as a drug, so early stage investment risky. The impact from that for tech transfer is the funding gap between early-stage innovation and what investors want to invest in just widens. It keeps getting harder to find people to invest in our early technologies.

We are all aware that there have been some pretty colossal abuses of drug pricing. The bad press from these abuses typically results in additional pressure on that investment gap. This can mean that innovations, like drugs can be left behind—the implications being that tech transfer didn’t file a patent, the patent is abandoned, or no money is invested beyond a patent filing. Consequently, quite often these innovations are forgotten.

Have the improvements in the economy over the past several years affected TT?

I would say that tech transfer has recovered some from the 2008 downturn. Back then, it was hard to find venture money or to get local, state, or federal government financial support; it was even harder to find money from angel investors. Many of those areas have improved, but it did take a number of years.

Compared to the previous three decades, tech transfer is in a better position in relation to the resources both financial and intellectual that we have access to. There are more resources available than ever before, but there are more expectations that come along with that. I would argue that the rise in investment in commercialization was brought on by the global financial crisis and the entire world’s infatuation with innovation as a solution coupled with the need and desire to try to generate economic wealth and create new companies.

If we look five years down the road, what new challenges might you anticipate for the TT profession?

I think one challenge could be a period of normalcy, which could be challenging after a period of plenty. We could see a retraction in certain resources as programs that have been impactful survive while others run their course and shrink or close. I think there is a good chance that we will still have more resources than in earlier years because there is a need for additional investment in this space, but maybe not quite to the current level.

From the Director: Challenges of Tech Transfer: “Everything is just getting harder to do” – Part 1

In this two-part blog we discuss the present and future of technology transfer at Emory and nationally with our Executive Director Todd Sherer, PhD, CLP, RTTP.

What do you see as the three biggest challenges in technology transfer today?

I think that the three biggest challenges would be constrained resources, the proliferation of organizations and entities focused on commercialization, and limitations on researchers time coupled with the established academic reward structure.

Constrained resources have always been a challenge for technology transfer and it seems to get a little worse every year. Simply, we are always trying to do more with less. The administrative costs for federal grants has been capped at 26% since 1991, which makes it challenging for universities to grow infrastructure to keep up with the demands of research administration. Additionally, you have to consider that research administration has become very complex as evidenced by the large number of new rules and regulations implemented since 1991. We have incredible pressure to find efficiencies, no matter how small, to cope with increased workload due to our limitations on hiring more staff.

Todd Sherer Photo

The proliferation of programs focused on commercialization across the city, state and nation is occurring as interest in academic tech transfer expands. Ever since the economic crash of 2008, the world became infatuated with commercialization. The reason is simple—economic prosperity requires jobs and net job growth often occurs in young companies. New companies need people, money ,and technology to get started. Technology for new companies is where academic tech transfer comes in. The focus on startups and job creation is driving incredible interest in doing everything possible to support and drive an innovation economy. The challenge in having so many organizations focused on innovation is coordinating efforts, efficient use of resources and managing expectations regarding impact for the future. It’s not all bad, but some entities will be impactful and thrive while others will fail.

The final big challenge is that the world wants more innovation from universities. No one seems to know how much more, but more. Tech transfer tries to squeeze as much innovation out of the university as it can, but at some point we butt up against the reward structure within academia which is focuses on peer-reviewed publication and grant support. Without changing this reward system (and I am not saying we should) it is getting harder to continue to inspire more interest in innovation among faculty. An additional restraint is the amount time faculty have to invest in innovation. They all have full-time jobs being teachers, researchers, and clinicians so their time to invest in commercialization is restricted.

How has Emory OTT attempted to address some of these challenges?

We have looked for creative ways to identify excess capacity and allocate resources efficiently within our office. As an example, we try to identify which licensing associate’s portfolio is over capacity compared to another’s who might be under capacity at a given point in time. The same thing for our contract analysts. Once we can identify that imbalance we know we can reallocate workload. There are real challenges in doing this efficiently without sacrificing our service level; while doing it well could help us maximize efficiency within the office.

We have engaged experienced industry individuals as consultants to provide additional capacity quickly. We train consultants to use our systems, processes and ways of doing things to see if we can plug them in when we need them and then unplug them when we don’t. We are currently working with two consultants for tech transfer and one consultant for industry contracting. All of this is focused on making sure that we can maximize capacity at any given time.

Lastly, we continue to work to enhance our website and other online and technology based resources. These online resources can facilitate and standardize the matching of people, technologies, and companies to the commercialization resources available to them. They help us try to stay focused on patenting and licensing, because the basis of technology transfer is protecting intellectual property rights and licensing them out.

To summarize, we look for small, incremental improvements in workflow and processes. Home runs are hard to find and very small savings on high volume activities, like MTAs, can add up over the course of a year. In short, there is no magic solution and it requires constant vigilance to assure we approach our maximum efficiency.

How do you see your role or OTTs here at Emory?

I view my primary role in the office as assuring that we have adequate resources, priorities, and focus to balance speed with quality. We are experimenting with new ways of creating transparency around our work. Staff sometimes incorrectly think it is for the purpose of checking up on them when it’s really about creating confidence around what and how we are performing so that resources can be more effectively and appropriately deployed. Emory has been very supportive of new resources when a clear and compelling case can be made. That is the way it should be as opposed to a theory or regular complaining.

Ironically, I used to complain because nobody cared about tech transfer. Universities sort of just allowed us to go forward and do business as long as we didn’t cost too much money and we didn’t bring any unwanted litigation to the university through our commercial activities. These days I complain because everybody cares about commercialization and innovation. So, managing expectations and keeping them realistic in an environment where everybody is an expert can be just as challenging.

From the Director: Navigating Proof of Concept Funding – Part 2

 In 2014, the Office of Technology Transfer created a proof of concept (POC) fund. This fund was created to address the lack of funding in the “Valley of Death,” between basic scientific research and a demonstrable product. The POC fund is designed to help move technologies closer to the market.

See part one of this interview here.

How was OTT’s first investment chosen? Are there any other inventions that are in the process of applying for funding?

The first investment was chosen because we happened to have a cardiologist that had a great idea for a new device at that time to deliver stem cells to the heart. There were some potential challenges as to how you would make that and she had become aware of an industry expert in California that had expertise in making cardiovascular devices. Engaging this expert was going to cost between $10,000 and $40,000 and that became a great opportunity to use the proof of concept fund. We had interest from the Coulter Translational fund, but being able to get that initial feedback on what that prototype might look like put the technology in a much better position for Coulter funding.

As a matter of fact, just recently two additional projects were approved for proof of concept funding and there are several more that are in the works. Our goal is to create a short investment document and again, it needs to be a stage-appropriate investment document. We can’t answer all the questions we need and it does take some work to get that document completed, but if we can at least consider the intellectual property and business potential, then we can make decisions relatively quickly.

Do you think there will be an upsurge in the amount of inventions disclosed now that this funding is available?

I don’t expect there to be an upsurge in the number of inventions disclosed necessarily. I do expect there to be a surge in the number of inventors that want to take advantage of this funding and we’re starting to see that increase in interest as inventors become aware of it.

Todd Sherer, Exec Director Photograph

Todd Sherer, Exec Director

What are your goals for the fund?

At some level I think it will help our ability to get faculty—in particular, physicians—to submit their ideas to the tech transfer office because one of their complaints has always been that they may not have a research lab if they’re a clinician, so what can Emory do to help? We’ve always been able to tell them that we might be able to file a patent which they think has some benefit, but it will have a lot more benefit if we say we can provide funding if an external partner can be identified to help prototype their ideas.

How do you plan on evaluating whether an investment was successful or not?

The funds success will be determined by looking at the outcome of the technology after the funding. What was the next step? Was it licensed by a startup or established company? Ideally, we would want to see more technology licensed simply by helping move the technology forward. That metric may not always be practical so we would also track whether faculty received follow on funding that we wanted through GRA, Coulter, or through the SBIR/STTR programs. Although these are ideal metrics, the ability to conclude that the faculty and the office should not further pursue the technology as a result of the activities from the POC fund is also highly valuable. In any of these cases, the . technology is closer to a point where we can make a “go” or “no go” decision and “no go” decisions are just as important as “go” decisions.

From the Director: Navigating Proof of Concept Funding – Part 1

In 2014, the Office of Technology Transfer created a proof of concept (POC) fund. This fund was created to address the lack of funding in the “Valley of Death,” between basic scientific research and a demonstrable product. The POC fund is designed to help move technologies closer to the market.

See part two of this interview here.

What is a proof of concept fund?

A proof of concept fund, generally speaking, is non-diluted funding that can be used to take an early stage idea and get it to a proof of concept or proof of principle stage. Although this stage has different meanings for different people, at a macro level, it means that there needs to be evidence that the invention works for its intended purpose. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use it in humans. There could be an animal model or even a cellular model that is viewed as the standard for a particular disease, which could be used for this proof of concept stage.

What motivated OTT to create such a fund?

Todd Sherer, Exec Director Photograph

Todd Sherer, Exec Director

One of our biggest challenges is that the inventions that are disclosed to the office are very early stage. As a matter of fact, they are generally referred to as embryonic. We try to go out and present these opportunities to investors, business people, and translational funds all the time and we typically hear, “Well that would be really interesting if only you had done this or done that.” We are routinely told that we need to get this technology farther down the innovation pathway and maybe at least beyond the embryonic stage. The challenge in that is finding money that can be made available quickly. The inspiration behind the Proof of Concept (POC) Fund was to have money that could be deployed with a minimum of due diligence in less time than what it might currently take to get Coulter and GRA funding, then use those funds to achieve a proof of concept-like experiment or de-risking process for our early stage technology. This POC Fund could bring the technology to the point where it could be at the proof of concept stage and easier to get follow-on translational funding.

What sorts of projects would benefit from a POC fund?

The first example could be a project that is too early for Coulter funding because the prototype needs to be at a certain developmental stage for this funding. Getting a prototype that could be tested with Coulter translational funding is a good example. A second example could be a technology that GRA reviewed and believes would be great for a Phase I, but only after some preliminary data in an in vitro or in vivo model demonstrates, at some level, that the invention works. In this situation POC funding could start it down the road of VentureLab funding and company creation. A third example could be where there is a medical device of sorts and there has been some general thought given to what that device might look like, but the clinician hasn’t had a chance to get feedback from an engineer, for example. If we had different versions of that device and how it might work, then we might be able to build a patent portfolio around it and that’s the name of the game. Broad patent protection is desirable and having multiple examples of how you might make that device is key.

The goals for the fund are to get more early stage technologies to the point where they get follow on funding from GRA, Coulter, SBIR/STTR, or even to the point where they get licensed. It is possible that proof of concept funding could bring an idea to the stage where it could be licensed out to an established company.