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How Technology Licensing Agencies Navigate Biotechnology Commercialization

The Technology Transfer Office is a key department for commercializing a researcher’s biotechnology innovation, but it can also be resource-constrained and risk-averse. Here are some ways to streamline the process and increase deals with investors and big pharma.

Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs) perform an important function in universities by guiding academics through the process of patenting and commercializing ideas. It also helps in researching surrounding markets, closing deals with companies, and leveraging networks within the industry.

However, there is wide variation in TTO attitudes towards the commercialization of intellectual property (IP), especially in the UK.

“By and large, technology transfer offices are a superfluous group of people with fairly limited resources: food tech and biotech.

However, there are some major success stories where academics, TTOs, and other partners have been able to create strong spin-out or licensing deals with large pharmaceutical companies. One example is C4X Discovery. C4X Discovery is a drug discovery company backed by the University of Manchester’s Proof of Principle funding program.

C4X Discovery was founded with the help of Rich Ferrie, who worked for the University of Manchester’s innovation-focused subsidiary and is now CEO of the London Bioinnovation Centre. Ferrie said the founders were “great people. Great idea, no money at all. We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, let’s cash in.'”

C4X Discovery is currently listed on the AIM stock exchange in London and has partnerships with a number of pharmaceutical companies.

Reid, Ferrie and other experts met at the Bio Integrates 2022 event in London earlier this year in a session called Transfer Targets. Led by Kevin Cox, chairman of his Biorelate, who provides artificial intelligence-driven insights, the session was set to dispel some of the myths about TTO. Panelists also provided some tips on how TTOs and entrepreneurs can streamline the process of commercializing biotech IP in the cell and gene therapy space.


Improved TTO strategy and incentives

Some TTOs are perceived to be overly cautious when negotiating deals on biotech IP with potential investors and big pharmaceutical companies, preferring to close deals that are considered unfavorable. prefer to terminate the

Reed somewhat disagreed with this realization. “I feel that TTO is having a hard time pricing deals,” he admitted. “They overestimate the technology. And they underestimate the risks that licensees and investors must take to open up commercial opportunities.”

In many cases, TTOs have few options to buy deals in early-stage biotech IP, so canceling deals may prevent the IP from entering the biotech industry. But according to Sohaib Mir, senior investment principal at medical research charity LifeArc, this is a powerful way to incubate the technology longer at institutions to attract more interested suitors and reduce risk. It can be controversial.

Another recognition by biotech founders is that TTOs often lack sufficient incentives to close deals. Some of his TTO teams may be worried about spinning out failed biotech companies, but Reid said universities typically don’t risk investing a lot of capital in ventures. , advises to license whenever possible. TTOs can also receive more share from the financial upside from the business, encouraging them to set up successful deals.

“What the TTO should not be is a library of patents,” said Ferrie. “An IP’s residence time in the office should be very short. TTO is essentially the custodian of that IP on behalf of the university, but the real goal of the game is to get things out the door.”

Since TTO is a small team, we cannot afford to specialize in the biotechnology field when we serve all university departments. A panelist therefore advised TTO to use its expert network to advise on the economic feasibility of certain of her IPs.

“For example, 15 minutes with Greg Winter talking about monoclonal antibodies is better than 5 hours with a non-technical individual,” comments Mir. “So spending quality time with people with green fingers is really important.”

TTO as seen from the United States

US hubs such as Boston remain model ecosystems for fostering biotech innovation. One reason for this is that the biotech industry has many serial academic entrepreneurs who can easily land investment in biotech startups thanks to exits they have made in previous companies.

“They are skipping the seed stage and trying to get tens of millions of dollars in Series A funding,” said Mir, adding that the UK is still far from having a large number of these serial entrepreneurs.

Another factor is that there are large venture capital funds in the US that have direct access to TTOs, incubating ideas and launching companies with hundreds of millions of dollars. The model, made famous by companies such as Arch Venture Partners and Flagship Pioneering, has yet to be developed in the UK. But more and more US investors are starting to look across the Atlantic for cheaper investments than in the US.

Even with the United States as a clear example to follow, panelists observed that many British institutions are still reluctant to follow suit. We Are Pioneer Group, for example, regularly consults with big pharmaceutical companies such as Astellas and AbbVie for advice on how to accelerate the development of resident biotech startups, although this is not common. There is none.

Moreover, the readiness of biotech spinouts to negotiate with big pharma is far more variable in the UK than in the US. According to Jenny Laird, Eli Lilly’s vice president of search and assessment neuroscience, the pharmaceutical giant’s external legal council is considering a spin-out on some basics of its market position. often have to. She suggested implementing a nationwide set of baseline documents in the TTO to educate biotech founders not to start from scratch.

“Certainly in Ireland all the terms of the license are uniform across the province,” replied Mr Ferrie. However, he warned that it is not always possible to completely standardize licensing agreements. “When you try to introduce a process into technology transfer, it’s not a formulaic approach.”

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reproducible headache

When transferring IP from academia to industry, many companies are wary of the danger of duplication in the scientific world. In the scientific world, the same experiment performed in different academic laboratories can yield different results. The critical work required to validate experiments is typically not funded by traditional research grants.

“I think academic research standards are great in a way, but they’re not process-oriented,” says Ferrie. “I don’t think these kinds of robustness challenge experiments are usually something academics can publish. They do experimental things, but they often don’t have the validation part in place.”

To address this step, the Innovations to Commercialization of University Research (iCURe) programme, funded by Innovate UK, offers up to £35,000 to biotech entrepreneurs, plus funding for validating their science. We provide months of training and support. This will prepare the founders to enter the market and make the IP more licensable.

Reid emphasized that bringing in the expertise of big pharma is also key to helping TTO understand the data it needs to convince potential investors that its technology has been validated. . This role is often filled by Astellas and AbbVie in the case of We Are Pioneer Group.

“The odds of success for early-stage opportunities are dramatically increased by interactions with large pharmaceutical companies,” said Reid. Ironically, most founders don’t sign a deal with that particular big pharma company, he added, but with a different company.

Finally, if the UK finds more serial entrepreneurs who are familiar with verification procedures in the early stages, it can also tackle the issue of technical translation at TTO.

Mr Reid said: “It just becomes a zombie project and nothing moves forward.”

“Curious, intelligent, wanting to learn more about business, trusted by academics and principal investigators who understand technology, but interested in doing something, eager and hungry I think there is a role for postdocs and research assistants in .Something else.