From Academic R&D to Biomedical Innovation

15 July 2019


Blog by Elaine Lima de Souza – Ph.D. in Sciences

Academic R&D is a source of radical innovations generated from breakthroughs in science and technology. Universities, although unexploited, have become the innovation ecosystems of major importance. With this blog I want to discuss the role of the universities in creating biomedical innovations, and what it takes for it to succeed.

In accord with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), research & development (R&D) is a creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of man, culture and society, and the use of its stock of knowledge to device new applications. Innovation is when R&D leads to an economic application of new knowledge. INNOVATION GOES FAR BEYOND R&D!

The valorization of academic R&D is an important topic for innovation. Research at universities is split between fundamental and applied nature. But is crucial to identify scientific relevance for the research to become an innovation. Health tech academic research, focusing on the translation from fundamental to applied science, is more prompt to create a practical implementation of the invention. Moreover, the close interaction between University Hospitals and Academic Research Centers allows a better understand of clinical needs, and bring innovations with a meaningful impact for patients.

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Innovations from academic research institutes can spinoff as a startup. Startups are great opportunities to build something new from the ground up, to innovate, take risks and experiment. Following a recent publication on Nature Biotechnology about the European Startup Landscape, the number of startup spinoffs in the country is closely related to the presence of these four factors: research output, patenting, venture capital and human capital (1).

Research productivity is very important for innovation, and for setting startups in a country. European countries with the highest R&D spending as a percentage of GDP are the top 8 in the Global Innovation Index, such as Switzerland, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Sweden. It is interesting to notice that most of the spending goes to academic R&D.

The commercialization of university research outcomes starts with the intellectual property protection of academic discoveries. The patent protection will create economic value for the invention. One crucial point for patenting is the awareness among scientists of the importance of keeping all science out of the public domain before patents are filled. The availability of technology transfer expertise in the academic setting is also a determinant for the number of academic patents.

Startups need to have investment and entrepreneur advice. Venture capital companies (VC) are the best option to give the support needed. VCs not only can help financially but also give access to their know-how and access to their network.

To drive the formation of a biomedical spinout motivated Bioentrepreneurs are necessary. Bioentrepreneurs are life sciences scientists willing to break into the entrepreneur’s journey. They have the skill set to find unmet clinical needs, translating discoveries into products, and building companies. Without them, science does not leave the bench. The quality of entrepreneurship is very important for startup activity of the country. Universities should invest in programs in Life Sciences MBA and Biobusiness for help the formation of qualified Bioentrepreneurs.

Despite the leading role of the academic R&D in generating biomedical innovation, it can only become a reality with scientific valorization. In sum, for the university generates value is necessary to set the right supporting infrastructure and know-how, including incubators, tech parks, sources of angel and venture capital, mentoring and networking structures.

ElaineElaine Lima de Souza, Contributor: I’ve spent a decade working in science. I have an MSc and Ph.D. from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and three years postdoc at Erasmus MC. I worked with rare diseases and molecular diagnostics. From thyroid physiology to cancer. I’m an award-winning scientist with 14 international peer-review publications. Moreover, I’m passionate about reading fiction and non-fiction books and share ideas. All of my articles reflect my personal views.

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Reference: (1) Mapping the European startup landscape. Bonnie van Wilgenburg, Kim van Wilgenburg, Kathryn Paisner, Sander van Deventer, and Rogier W. Rooswinkel. Nature Biotechnology, 37:345-349. April 2019.