Improving the return on R&D investments



This week at Tech Transfer Talks, we talk with Lídia Aguilera, Technology Transfer Officer at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB). A professional with a very strong profile in Technology Transfer (TT), who has become an expert in multiple processes such as scouting, risk analysis, marketing and implementation.

What is exacly your current job at the University of Luxembourg?

My role as Tech Transfer Officer is to support researchers at all stages of the marketing process: analysis of the potential market for the research results, protection of intellectual property, or definition and implementation of the best strategy for TT, by creating a spinoff or through a licensing process to an established company. Currently, I distribute my time between LCSB, which receives the 50 % of my dedication, and other university faculties.

How would you describe a typical day in the LCSB?

It includes an early meeting with one of our researchers to discuss details about how to market their results, negotiating the terms of a license with a center or business partner, and contacting or visiting companies that are interested in our portfolio.

The main objective of the LCSB is accelerating biomedical research. In wich way are you trying to accomplish this?

The LCSB is an interdisciplinary research center that focuses on biomedical research by accelerating the connection between systems biology and medical research. Its research focus is on neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson, and common mechanisms with other chronic diseases. Its great potential and success is due to the collaboration between researchers from different fields such as biologists, doctors, physicists, engineers and mathematicians, enabling new discoveries in complex systems such as cells, organs and organisms. These findings are essential to the understanding of the main mechanisms of the pathogenesis of a disease and to develop new tools in diagnosis and therapy. Through the creation of multidisciplinary research groups led by clinical scientists, the LCSB also bridges to technology platforms and models at different scales, covering models in silico, in vitro and in vivo, in addition to studies with patients and family.

Within this process … At which point do you get involved as an expert in TT?

TT professionals participate from the beginning of the research projects, advising on the best protection strategy, seeking technological or industrial partners or assisting in marketing.

We all know that every industry has its “peculiarities”, so what are the sensitive points for TT in the health sector?

One of the most sensitive points in the health field is the combination of a long time to market with continued financial support, as some companies may be reluctant to risk resources in therapeutic projects that may never reach the market, or whose output at the same time can be prolonged. Any long process presents certain risks that may be associated or not to research excellence and that can derail their arrival on the market. The sector requires more early stage instruments at European level to help overcome because the private sector demand some previous results early stages of research before investing.

Another critical point in health is the complexity of approving new products and the cost associated with it, so it is necessary to provide hospitals with financial resources to invest in new diagnostic technologies in order to get benefit from progress scientist to rationalize health spending while achieving acceptance in the market.

And regarding the collaboration with industry and startups, what strategy is being followed by the LCSB?

We have more than 50 strategic partners including multinational companies, SMEs and prestigious universities. Our pipeline of innovation responds to the needs of the industry in areas such as the study of stem cells induced and organelles as model organisms of disease, organ-on-chip for drug screening and drug repositioning, modeling and computer simulation, management and analysis health big data, and management and generation of electronic clinical records of patients.

In the LCSB the creation of new companies is encouraged, of course depending on the technology concerned, the need for know-how of the research group for marketing the product or service and / or access to risk capital. In the case of platform technologies, creating a spinoff or startup allows the commercialization of the technology through a wide range of applications. In other cases, the license given to established businesses improves the invention or integrates it into a portfolio of products.

Tell us your biggest successes in this field.

Our most important spinoffs are ITTM and MicroGUT. ITTM is a spinoff that provides solutions for managing research in translational medicine and clinical trials, through data curation, analysis and hosting, infrastructure support and display. And MicroGUT, wich is being developed, is based on a medical device, in this case a gut-on-a chip, an in vitro model of the gastrointestinal tract. This system allows the simulation of processes taking place in individual segments of intestine, like catabolism of drugs. Thanks to this, scientists can systematically analyze existing bacteria in the gut, its effect on human cells, the way they interact with other microorganisms, and their role in the onset and course of certain diseases. This future spinoff is generating much interest from the industry because of its potential to evaluate the pharmacokinetics of a single form and thus optimally customize drug therapy.

You have worked several years in Spain and Luxembourg. Would you say that these two countries are facing similar TT challenges?

I do not think TT challenges are different in one country or another, I think it is more a question of the strategy and philosophy followed by each research center, and how are they encouraged and shaped to researchers to be aware of the importance of the TT for its results, in order to reach the market and benefit society. In this sense, in both countries we can find good practices and research centers that do excellent work in the field of TT.

But there are differences for sure…

Luxembourg is obviously a country with greater financial capacity, that allows it to offer different tools to support research, such as proof of concept programs that streamline the transfer of results. For me, the big difference lies in its flexibility to create the framework for a technology to be adopted. In the case where the various national bodies (ministries, universities and companies) support a particular project, it may be the case of the creation of a new legislation in place, or that the different actors involved in the value chain are coordinated for a pilot test. In the health sector, this is very beneficial, since coordinate research in different fields, hospitals and patient groups, for example, are a great help in accelerating the TT.

Which achievements in TT are you most proud of to date?

I do not think TT achievements can be individual. Any transfer process involves a large number of professionals without which the process would not have been successful. I am proud to have been part of teams that made it possible to systematize the transfer process, as this part itself allows each subsequent licensing processes to be easier and more structured. Specifically, I’m proud to have been part of the creation and systematization of portfolios of large corporations, for example, the European Space Agency (ESA). As the TT includes multiple areas and facets, I am glad to have participated with a team of experts in multiple projects with the European Commission advising the European consortia projects on the best strategy for marketing the results of the collaboration. And of course, I am proud of the licensing processes in which I have participated, and the diagnostic system that we are currently negotiating with a multinational in the LCSB.

Let’s talk about the future. What are your next goals in LCSB?

Like in any other university, my objectives are managing the portfolio of technology and adapt it to the needs of the industry, supporting and advising faculty members on TT to forge partnerships between them and businesses, and creating networks with the industry that allow to approach the specific partners as soon as a project is ready.

And finally, in your expert opinion, what do you think will be the next challenges for Europe’s TT?

The first one is the lack of funding for proofs of concept of research results (even though the European Commission has promoted several initiatives in recent years). Another challenge is the professionalization of people in charge of the TT, as the training offers are currently segmented and there is no program at an European level. The training of the future professionals in TT should include a strong background in intellectual property and legal aspects related to the licensing process and collaboration between different parties, experience and training in the negotiation process, development of commercial capacities and creation a portfolio of customers.