From the keyboard of our 2014 BIO Fellow – San Diego

Bluebox funded Associate Professor Derek Richard to attend Bio in San Diego this year. Here is his blog entry of his experience.

Bio 2014 in San Diego was my first Bio and I must admit was a real eye opener. As a cancer biologist my primary concerns have been the next publication and the next grant, however about a year back I noticed some of my results could potentially be translated into anticancer drugs. Its difficult for traditionally trained scientists to know what to do with these discoveries and in particular who funds their translation into a product and what do investors need before they will fund. Even though I am a scientist, I quickly found myself attending the business and investment talks. I now know what an “exit plan is” I know what the “valley of death” is and most importantly I sat through talks where speakers talked about their solution to these issues. Although there were many interesting talks and interactions with industry, one talk and one industry interaction really made an impression on me. The first was a talk by MRC-T (Medical Research Council- Technology). The MRC is the UK governments primary funding agency to medical research, essentially it is our NHMRC. A number of years back MRC-T realised that great research was not making it from the universities to industry because there is this gap in funding between what traditional grants will fund and what industry wants, the so called “valley of death”. MRC-T was set up as a not for profit charity and its objective was to fund promising research. Has it worked? Yes without a doubt, MRC-T has generated around $1bn in profits for British Universities, it has brought 12 drugs to market, negotiated 400 commercial licences and humanised 55 antibodies. MRC-T is no longer funded by the government but makes $113m profit per year that it re-invests. The second big impact of my Bio experience was a visit to the Jansen Labs, a visit kindly organised by our own Prof Zee Upton. From the tour the Jansen labs were just standard wet labs, same white benches and equipment, however, it was not the building that was special, it was the concept. These labs are incubator units that Jansen uses to bring in ideas, to propagate these ideas, nurture the entrepreneurs and then to go our and find investors to bring these ideas into reality. For $1,000 per month (US) you get a lab, access several million $ worth of equipment, an office, all the administration support you need, a professional looking environment and people who seem to want you to do well, and when your product is ready, they will go out and find investors or will help you exit with the maximum return. I don’t know what I expected to achieve from Bio, but I can tell you it has changed my thinking and opened my eyes to our potential.

Derek Richard.