Conference Coverage

Strong leadership is the backbone of effective commercialization efforts




SAN FRANCISCO–The way Dr. Amanda Christini sees it, universities and academic medical centers should care about commercialization of innovation, because it creates new opportunities to impact patient care.

“As academicians, we need to engage in cultural change from the ground up in order to be good at effective innovation and in order to contribute in a meaningful way,” Dr. Christini, director of strategic initiatives for the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation, Philadelphia, said at the 2015 AGA Tech Summit, which is sponsored by the AGA Center for GI Innovation and Technology.

Dr. Amanda Christini

Dr. Amanda Christini

Traditionally, the “value” of commercialization from a university or academic medical standpoint has been defined by royalties from product sales. “But it turns out there are different kinds of value,” Dr. Christini said. “Value is created when we have an impact on patient care. Value is created when we disseminate something we do that has impact, and it’s adopted broadly within your own institution or by other centers.”

The current health care “ecosystem” consists of many stakeholders, including patients, academic medical centers, the government, payers, large industry partners, investors, and start-ups, she continued. Current options for commercializing a product include licensing a product or device to an industry partner, creating a broad partnership with an industry partner, “where they fund your research and invest in core infrastructure such as manufacturing,” or creating a new company altogether. Embarking on such endeavors at today’s universities and academic medical centers is challenging because “the historic focus on therapeutics is slow to change,” Dr. Christini explained. “It’s very product oriented. What winds up happening is, instead of asking ‘what is possible,’ [decision-makers at] universities and academic medical centers will often say ‘No, we don’t do that.’ There is a fundamental culture shift that has to happen in order to allow this to be successful.”

Stanford (Calif.) University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, have been especially successful in fostering collaboration among stakeholders in the health care ecosystem, Dr. Christini said. In fact, Stanford alumni have launched 40,000 companies resulting in $2.7 trillion in annual revenue, while MIT grads have launched 25,800 companies resulting in $2.2 trillion in annual revenue. Strong leadership skills form the backbone of such success. “And it’s not just leadership that gets up and says the word ‘innovation’ over and over again,” she said. “It’s leadership that actually changes what happens inside the institution. One way to do that is to create metrics that measure what you actually care about – not just royalty stream. [You want to measure things] like how long does it take to get a transaction done? Is the faculty happy? Is the faculty satisfied? Do they feel like they are being served by these [shareholder] groups? How many start-ups with funding above a certain number have been created as a result of the work that’s done? These kinds of things can have a dramatic impact on how successful you are.”

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