Thursday, September 09, 2010

CIP bridges industry and academia: Chicago Innovation Pipeline enhances biotech research and bringing discoveries to market

When the Stinson Brand Innovation team attended BIO2010 earlier this summer, we met with dozens of representatives from pharma and diagnostic companies, university tech transfer offices, and government entities.

One particular meeting we enjoyed was with Alan Thomas, director of UChicagoTech, the University of Chicago's office of technology and intellectual property.

He was featured in this month's U of C magazine sharing his view that the recent economic crisis may have pushed universities and corporations to come out of their silos and communicate.  "There's a bunch of forces driving everybody to be much more collaborative," said Alan Thomas, director of UChicagoTech, the University's office of technology and intellectual property. "Everybody's got a piece of everybody else's puzzle."

"The term biotechnology implies a bridge, a connection between scientific discovery and its application to the broader world," the article states.  "But the link between two major components of that bridge - academic centers and private companies - is often tenuous, with different motivations, languages, and policies creating structural strain. Frequently, the struggle to bring a new biological innovation to market is not so much scientific as logistic, with financial and regulatory hurdles."

In the meeting room of the Illinois BIO exhibit, Thomas introduced us to the Chicago Innovation Pipeline (CIP), the result of regional teamwork, organized by Chicago with Northwestern University, Argonne National Laboratory, Children's Memorial Research Center, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. The goal: to help industry and academia join forces for biotechnology development.

With promising research projects aggregated into what Thomas described as an iTunes-style database, CIP participants hope to make it easy for companies to quickly find drugs and devices they may be interested in using for partnerships.

While the majority envisioned transforming biology into technology, in the form of a new drug or diagnostic tool, the application of technology to biology was just as exciting. Rick Stevens, a U of C professor of computer science, described the opportunities presented by dramatic improvements in computational power at centers such as Argonne. As the speed of sequencing complete genomes and modeling complex biological systems increases, Stevens said, the potential for running experiments entirely within the computer will revolutionize biology and medicine.

When the goal is curing disease, speed is good. That was the message at the convention's Translational Research Forum, cosponsored by University of Chicago, where speakers from research centers and patient advocacy groups argued that better partnerships and study design could shorten the path from lab to clinic. Julian Solway, director of U of C's Institute for Translational Medicine, said that public-health issues in the Medical Center's neighboring communities underscored the urgent need for new interventions. "It's in this context," Solway said, "that we seek to improve health by translating research discoveries into real and effective therapies."

The recurring theme, heard in practically every meeting room of McCormick Place: Such improvements are better made with academia and industry standing together. Communication in particular, strong. "There's much more of an open innovation environment now," Thomas said, "so speaking each other's language becomes much more important."

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