The BCM Innovation Development Center: An Interview with Andrew Wooten, M.S., M.T.M.

Research training, whether clinical or basic science, does not prepare investigators for the translation of a biomedical discovery into a commercially viable product. To assist its innovative investigators and fledgling entrepreneurs with this daunting process, Baylor College of Medicine has established the Innovation Development Center (IDC).

Wooten imageVIICTR.org recently spoke with Andrew Wooten, M.S., M.T.M., the Executive Director of the IDC, about the services the IDC provides and its new facility.

Tell us how you became interested in this area and how that lead to your involvement with the Baylor Innovation Development Center?

While I was completing a master of science degree in biotechnology, my major professor created a new company. As I observed the processes involved, I soon became interested in the translation and commercialization of scientific discoveries. Since then, all phases of my career have focused on the interface between university research and the business world. I have worked in industry at large companies such as Applied Biosystems and Thermo Fisher Scientific, I have helped to establish successful university startup companies such as Reproductive Biology Associates and AviGenics (now Synageva Biopharma) and I have worked in academic technology commercialization at the University of Chicago and at Arizona State University before coming to Baylor. So, I have experienced the biomedical ecosystem from multiple angles, and I draw on all of these experiences in my new role as the Executive Director of the Baylor IDC.

How was the IDC established, and where is it located?

The IDC would not have been possible without the support of the Baylor Research Business Development and Strategy Group, whose members are Susan Blaney, M.D., professor of pediatrics, Michael Dilling, Ph.D., M.B.A., Director of the Baylor Licensing Group (BLG), Thomas Kosten, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, Adam Kuspa, Ph.D., Senior Vice President and Dean of Research, Caroline Popper, President of BCM Technologies (BCMT), and J. Timothy Stout, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., Chair of Ophthalmology. The Dan L. Duncan Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (ICTR) provided the infrastructure needed initially to build the IDC activities from the ground up.

The position of Executive Director of the IDC was loosely defined, giving me the latitude to take the IDC in the direction most needed for the institution. Early on, I identified a gap in the resources, expertise and infrastructure required for the preclinical stage of product development in the research enterprise both at Baylor and in the region. And as I searched for ways to address that gap, I identified an opportunity with the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to fund a program that would allow us to strengthen our capabilities in that area. We submitted a successful application that has helped us to build a new facility dedicated to innovation development and commercialization. The facility is housed on the 5th floor of the Neurosensory Center building located at the corner of John Freeman Boulevard and Fannin Street. The space is divided between laboratories that are designed for molecular biology research and administrative offices. It has two conference rooms, a break area, and offices for administrative support staff.

What is the purpose of the Innovation Development Center, and what benefits does it provide to individual faculty members and the Baylor community at large?

Although clinical and basic science investigators are trained to conduct research, they are not trained to develop and commercialize the products that may result from their research. So, we provide the kinds of resources and expertise needed to evaluate whether scientific discoveries have commercial merit.  Historically, one of the challenges is that, in order to be successful as entrepreneurs, investigators have to spend time away from the pursuit of science to develop the requisite skills. We organize a development team of internal and external experts who can help propel the commercialization process forward on behalf of the investigator. We rely on in-house professionals from IDC, ICTR, BLG, and BCMT who provide expertise to pursue commercial grant opportunities, shepherd products through preclinical development phases, conduct clinical trials, attend to regulatory issues, protect and transfer intellectual property, and establish new ventures. We also complement our BCM staff with outside advisors who have first-hand knowledge of a particular business or market.

Pictured from left: Dr. Asis Sarkar, Director, Special Projects, Seyed-Kian Haghgoo, Commercial Grants and Contracts Associate, Andrew Wooten, Founding Executive Director of the Innovation Development Center meet to review funding opportunities for a new project.

 

The first step in the IDC process is to screen projects to determine which have the greatest probability of success and then select the most promising for further development. Through the Alkek Award for Pilot Projects in Experimental Therapeutics, we work with the ICTR to invest in the top projects at Baylor. We then develop commercial plans for the award winners. These commercial plans can then be used to pursue commercial grant opportunities with the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) / Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) program and others which require that a professionally executed commercialization plan be submitted with funding applications.

Certain commercial grant opportunities are available only to independent companies. To be able to take advantage of these opportunities, we need to form research and development companies. The IDC in effect serves as a hub and a home for these development companies (Devcos).  Current IDC Devcos include:

  • A2 Therapeutics – a peptide therapeutic for disseminated intravascular coagulation, graft-versus-host disease and other inflammatory conditions
  • Bioseed – small molecule drug for use as a gout therapy
  • NanoIn – nano-particle technology for use as a cellular transfection reagent and as a drug delivery vehicle
  • PreMir Biotech – micro RNA therapy for the prevention of ovarian cancer
  • RegenOst – osteoinductive nanoparticles for bone regeneration
  • Sepin Biotech – small molecule inhibitors of separase enzymes for cancer therapy
  • TxThera – target discovery platform and lead molecules for cancer therapy
  • uCell Therapy – NKT cell immunotherapy platform to treat a wide range of cancers
  • Varvedo – conjugated drug molecule as a therapy for rheumatoid arthritis
  • Coregon – small molecule src modulators for use in cancer therapy 

Can you give some examples of recent IDC successes?

Considering that the IDC has existed for only 2 years, I think we have made considerable progress toward our goals. Currently, we are working on 15 projects that all have the potential for success. So far, we have created 11 development companies to pursue commercial grant opportunities. Recently, we submitted five new SBIR/STTR grant applications and assisted with another.

With regard to faculty successes, we have successfully assisted several faculty in obtaining commercial grant funding.  For example, we worked with Debananda Pati, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics, to pursue a grant opportunity to develop a small-molecule drug for treating refractory breast cancer. We provided commercial planning services to him and identified outside technical advisors for the planning and grant application processes. Dr. Pati successfully obtained $2 million in CPRIT funding for his project “Novel Separase Inhibitors to Treat Refractory Breast Cancer.”

We have also assisted several faculty in leveraging our commercial planning services into commercial partnerships.  Our first success in this regard was a partnership with private investors to create a company called Bioseed. This new venture is funding the development of a small molecule gout therapy in collaboration with Dr. Johnny Chen.

What plans do you have for the IDC for the future?

In addition to expanding our current work, we plan to roll out formalized programs to better attract different types of partners to participate in BCM’s innovation ecosystem. Our most critical partners are the Baylor innovators around whom we have built the IDC. The second important group is sponsors, which include corporations, the federal government, state government, philanthropists, and even patient groups. We plan to seek funding from as many of these groups as possible. The third group is investors. Our strategy with this group is to take projects as far along as possible so they appeal to co-investors. Not only can we offer a financial return to traditional investors, but we also can deliver impact towards the mission of organizations, which are interested in impact investing. The fourth group is entrepreneurs. Baylor faculty members have many great concepts that can be good commercial opportunities, so we need to pair business champions with our projects to help drive them. We want to engage more often in this type of partnering. The fifth and final group is advisors. There are many service providers and experts in particular market niches that match well with what we are trying to accomplish. We want to offer specific programs to attract them.

We also have begun to offer entrepreneurial education courses. Our first course, Development and Commercialization of Biomedical Innovations, has been developed and offered for the spring 2015 term. This course was originally conceived as part of the Baylor Clinical Scientist Training Program. However, we decided to offer the  course to a wider audience because of a much broader interest in this topic outside of the training program. We hope the course will attract even greater interest going forward.

If Baylor faculty members want to learn more about the IDC and its offerings, who should they contact?

Investigators interested in learning more about the Innovation Development Center (IDC) at Baylor College of Medicine should e-mail Andrew Wooten at andrew.wooten@bcm.edu.

VIICTR Member Organizations
  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Texas Children's Hospital
  • MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center
  • Ben Taub Hospital
  • University of Houston College of Pharmacy
  • Gulf Coast Consortia