Since we reported on the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s new Centers of Innovation program in the Spring 2008 CIMS Technology Management Report, there’s been significant progress in establishing the first centers, which are intended to foster commercialization within targeted industry sectors of the North Carolina economy. Here’s a progress report by program vice president Mary Beth Thomas.
The NC Biotechnology Center (www.ncbiotech.org) was the first government-sponsored organization dedicated to developing the biotechnology industry. Now 25 years old and funded by the state of North Carolina, the Biotech Center supports the growth and development of the biotech industry through grants and loans on multiple fronts — from funding academic research and its application to workforce development to business loans for early-stage biotech companies.
In 2007, the Biotechnology Center received additional funding from the state to initiate the Centers of Innovation (COI) program. The goal was to establish a network of independent, self-sustaining centers designed to catalyze the state’s efforts in biotechnology research, development and commercialization in targeted industrial sectors important to economic development and job creation.
These centers would be established by academic – industry consortia that recognize the specific strengths North Carolina has to offer in the targeted industries. They would be “virtual” centers — not brick and mortar but, rather, possessing a small, professional staff working with partners to align targeted research capabilities and industry needs across the state.
There has been significant progress toward the establishment of the first COIs since my earlier report. Centers are funded through a Phase I planning grant of $100,000, resulting in a business plan and a Phase II grant of $2.5 million that funds the implementation of the plan over four years.
Currently, one Phase I planning grant is actively focusing on developing the state’s interests in marine biotechnology and three Centers have received approval for their Phase II funding. These Phase II grants are focused on the development of commercialization opportunities in advanced medical technologies, nanobiotechnology and drug discovery. While all of the COIs are in the early stages of implementing their business plans, they are working toward drawing upon and aligning North Carolina’s regional strengths in research with their respective industries in order to build new companies and strengthen industry within the state.
Four Principal Activities
As the Spring 2008 TMR reported, there are four principal activities that each COI must balance if it is to be successful. These activities are: knowledge management, risk management, collaboration, and value creation. While each of the new Centers face unique challenges in serving their academic and industry partners, here are a few examples of how they are currently managing their activities:
Knowledge management — where technology development and product development produce additional data to allow a COI’s management team to follow a strategic decisionmaking process.
To better manage this activity, the Center of Innovation for Nanobiotechnology (COIN) has been working on a tech mining project in collaboration with CIMS researcher Alan Porter and a leading nanomaterials scientist, Kam Leong, from Duke University (see “Tech Mining Can Support Open Innovation in Biotech Industry — and Yours Too,” p.1).
By creating refined algorithms and performing iterative searches of publication databases, this project has given COIN a valuable perspective into the field of novel nanomaterials being applied to drug delivery as well as some of the industry players that are partnering on this cutting-edge research. Narrowing the scope of interested industry partners will allow COIN to focus its business development efforts on companies that have already demonstrated an interest in this area of research.
Risk management — in which a COI performs a sufficient amount of research on a specific technology to remove some of the early risk. The Drug Discovery Center of Innovation (DDCOI) is working closely with CIMS and an MBA team from NC State University’s Jenkins College of Management on a tech mining project that will lead to clearer definition around specific areas of oncology drug discovery — specifically on which areas of research will be most attractive to industry partners.
Aligning research strengths within NC academic organizations with the most pressing market demands from pharmaceutical industry partners can create partnerships at an earlier stage than usual. By aligning partners’ interests and providing expertise, knowledge and project management, the DDCOI potentially decreases the risk in that investment for the pharma partner.
Collaboration — the ability to not only identify ideas but also connect them with people and partners in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
The Center of Innovation for Advanced Medical Technologies — now known as ibiliti— is striving to connect some 400 disparate organizations within this important sector of the North Carolina economy. The Center is in the process of establishing a new website portal that will allow all of these entities — the biomedical engineering centers, the service providers, and small, medium and large medical technology companies — to interconnect in a way that has not been available to them heretofore.
ibiliti is currently working with several med tech industry partners to better understand their needs and provide them with connections to possible solutions to problems that cross the industry spectrum — from technical challenges on the innovation front to regulatory questions to product development and manufacturing.
Value creation — through two primary activities: 1) having a comprehensive understanding of their market and 2) the ability to analyze and optimize the portfolio of projects to move the most commercially viable projects ahead. The project work being pursued by the DDCOI described above will allow for the DDCOI management staff to have a current and deep understanding of today’s biotech and pharma market demands. Leveraging that knowledge alongside their on-going work with academic innovators will allow them to create a portfolio of biotech projects with the greatest chance for commercial success.
As these centers continue to refine their business plans, they are actively engaged with industry, academic and other non-profit partners to create the alignment and relationships that can allow innovation and new avenues of commercialization to flourish.
Tracking metrics such as new company creation, company attraction and job growth, as well as assessing how their respective industries are growing and transforming, will allow the COIs to monitor their successes and adapt their activities to create the most efficient means of commercialization for their partners, thereby creating new industries and opportunities in North Carolina.