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Office supports MUSC entrepreneurship

by Cindy Abole
Public Relations
South Carolina patients and others will soon benefit from new cures, treatments and therapies for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and a variety of serious illnesses thanks to MUSC’s establishment of the Office of Industry Partnerships (OIP).  
OIP is a not-for-profit corporation founded by the MUSC Foundation for Research Development (FRD) to better support the institution’s efforts to develop stronger relationships with the commercial sector, particularly regarding clinical and basic science research support from industry. This initiative grew from FRD discussions with the private sector on how to best market and promote MUSC resources that are attractive to industry.
Staffed and led with experienced personnel in industry research and development, the OIP will provide MUSC researchers with resources to aid in relationships with industry. OIP personnel can assist with growing current relationships as well as bringing new opportunities to researchers and their departments.
For researchers, the procedures for preparing industry proposals remain the same with the added resource of the OIP's availability to assist in budget and proposal preparation, according to Stuart Knight, who will lead the OIP in business development opportunities. The office is partnering with MUSC’s South Carolina Clinical Translational Research (SCTR) Success Center to provide additional resources to MUSC researchers. By engaging OIP at an early stage, faculty can use competitive analysis skills and other tools to optimize budgets.
“Our goal is to facilitate long-term relationships with industry and to establish an integrated business development process for the benefit of industry sponsors and MUSC faculty members,” said Knight, OIP director.
“We want to assist the research community and serve as a communication link between our scientists and industry sponsors to evaluate ideas, identify resources, create new or enhanced funding opportunities and advance MUSC relationships with industry to the next level,” he said.
MUSC President Ray Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., is supportive of the campus' research growth in this direction.
“We have seen excellent growth in federal research funding through the efforts of our researchers, the Provost's Office, and our research support infrastructure. We felt we needed to apply that same level of focus to relationships with the private sector,” Greenberg said.
The new office supports the institution’s template for growth during the next five years as outlined by the 2010 MUSC Strategic Plan. Campus leaders are already working to outline details in four focus areas: interprofessionalism, globalization, entrepreneurialism and innovation/technology. With the country’s unsteady economic climate and declining state funding support, MUSC joins other research universities looking for ways to engage the private sector to create new funding opportunities and partnerships. This not only diversifies MUSC's funding portfolio, but it also creates a climate where new therapies and cures can move that much faster to the patient by leveraging the academic-industry relationship.
“The strategic plan for the Medical University targets innovation, technology and entrepreneurialism as major emphasis areas, all of which will be enhanced with stronger partnerships within the private sector. The Office of Industry Partnerships is an important vehicle for helping to promote these relationships,” Greenberg said.
Knight joined the OIP this summer after he was competitively selected by the FRD from a group of well-qualified candidates for this new position. Knight came to MUSC from the Southern Research Institute, a contract research organization based in Birmingham, Ala., that provides a broad spectrum of contract drug development services to the global pharma, biotechnology and medical device communities. Southern Research Institute has close ties to the University of Alabama-Birmingham, so Knight is familiar with the world of academic research. Previously, Knight also worked as the global director of business development at Chicago-based PreLabs LLC, where he gained extensive experience partnering with industry through the commercialization of underutilized research capacities of several major academic research institutions.
To generate support, Knight has enlisted the help of active and successful investigators who have benefitted from entrepreneurial activity. Charles D. Smith, Ph.D., joined MUSC in 2006 and holds a South Carolina Center for Economic Excellence Endowed Chair, is director of the Drug Discovery Core Facility and the Charles and Carol Cooper Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences.  Smith’s research interest are focused on drug discovery particularly relating to sphingolipid signaling systems in cancer and inflammation.
Smith's research led him to establish two drug discovery startup companies. Apogee Biotechnology Corporation is an early stage drug discovery company focusing on the treatment of cancer and inflammatory diseases, and Vortex Biotechnology Corporation, which focuses on the development of drugs to treat prostate cancer and certain leukemias. Both companies feature collaborative research work with the Hollings Cancer Center.
Since June, Knight has been actively meeting with MUSC administrators, deans, department and divisional leaders, and campus investigators about OIP services. He is identifying research services offered by MUSC that are most marketable to industry. Additionally, he is determining where outsourced research dollars are currently spent by industry and where future trends may lead to outsourcing needs tomorrow.
“The challenge is that not every university scientist knows or is experienced in navigating the regulatory and financial pathway for product commercialization,” said Smith.
“These processes are very different from basic research activities. As researchers, we need to change our mindset from conducting pure research to developing biomedical discoveries into commercial products. The Office of Industry Partnerships will provide resources for faculty by helping to facilitate interactions with industry throughout the spectrum of a product's commercialization process.”
In an effort to reach out and promote collaborative entrepreneurial support, Smith chairs a biotechnology interest group as part of MUSC’s SCTR initiative. The group meets regularly with faculty, students and post-doctoral staff who seek information on venture startups, commercialization and funding resources. According to Smith, members are a resource for each other as colleagues share expertise, experiences and related interests.
Associate Provost for Research Stephen Lanier, Ph.D., believes that MUSC will be a significant player in the world of university-industry partnerships. “When an institution’s research funding reaches more than $200 million, there exists many entrepreneurial opportunities. The Office of Industry Partnerships will help us grow in this area where we hope to compete, contribute and lead,” he said.
According to Lanier, OIP is clearly one of several important entities providing enhanced infrastructure for the rapidly developing research enterprise on campus.
From Knight’s perspective, OIP can play a significant role in MUSC’s quest to become an even greater research institution. By leveraging the clinical and basic science resources on campus and partnering strategically with industry, the OIP believes that MUSC will achieve its next leap forward, he said.

For more information, visit OIP at

Friday, Aug. 6, 2010

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