#BIO2017: A Peek at Partnering | SPARK

Breaking Buzz is BIO’s newest blog series that reaches across the globe to bring you an insider’s preview into the hottest international and partnering trends coming to San Diego for the BIO International Convention.

Perfecting Translation

Stanford’s translational research program, SPARK, is only 11 years old yet already has funded and supported 148 past and current projects, helped launch 24 start-ups and has had over 30 patents licensed. Spark lays claim to a 62% success rate; measured when a project enters into human clinical trials, or is licensed to a start-up or existing company.

With those kind of stats it’s no wonder Mahima Agochiya, Business Development and Program Manager for SPARK was besieged with meeting requests at last year’s BIO International Convention within BIO’s One-on-One Partnering™ system.

SPARK’s remarkable program – a partnership between Stanford and volunteers from the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and healthcare investment industries – offers support to an average of 12-15 new projects each year.

Mahima Agochiya PhD, MBA
Business Development and Program Manager
SPARK Translational Research Program at Stanford University School of Medicine

Breaking Buzz sat down with Mahima to chat about the 69 meetings she and her colleagues attended in three days during the BIO International Convention in San Francisco, and asked about her strategy for partnering success.

We know SPARK is a Translational Medicine Program based out of Stanford School of Medicine that seeks partnerships with industry to help translate its projects, and is entering into its second year attending BIO. What kind of partner are you looking for this year?

SPARK is agnostic to indication so we are not limited to specific areas of therapeutics. We generally look for companies that are interested in early stage start-up funding or licensing; or both. The assets/ projects that we are looking to partner with this year are novel, address an unmet clinical need, and are at a stage where they ready for the next step.

There are thousands of companies in the BIO’s One-on-One ™ system representing tens of thousands of assets. How did you narrow it down to 69 meetings?

The first thing I do is add filters. We are mostly interested in companies that license at early-stage since our projects are preclinical at the most, so my go-to filters are “licensing” and “early-stage” for example. I then send out a lot of meeting requests. Perhaps it was because last year was only the first year that SPARK attended BIO, and my first year too, but I was very surprised by the number of invitations we got from other companies. It helps a lot to belong to a university that has a great reputation scientifically and I think people were curious about us, given our success rate.

Can you tell us about that success rate?

SPARK has a 62% success rate on all projects we take in. So far we’ve spun out 24 start-ups; eight licenses to biopharma; four tech transfers without license, and 31 clinical trials – 10 without license. To date we have provided education, mentorship and funding to 148 projects and hundreds of students.

Last year SPARK had 35 projects (assets) that you presented during partnering meetings at the Convention. Did any of those materialize into a licensing opportunity?

Yes! Last year resulted in at least one successful partnership that I will be able to talk about at the Convention this June, and we have ongoing negotiations with other companies we met, most of whom we’ll meet with again in San Diego. BIO provides a great opportunity to get to know new companies and share experiences with them. I think it might be hard to walk away with nothing.

What’s your advice to people new to the Partnering system?

Don’t have a script ready. Instead, open with a clear and concise statement saying exactly what you’re looking for. A half-hour isn’t long enough to delve into details, but rather to quickly ascertain if there is a viable partnering opportunity; so keep the conversation direct at opening, then very flexible. Also, provide all of your materials on a USB. SPARK’s assets are detailed, each on a single page, in one file given on a single USB drive.

Besides partnering meetings, what else is on your Convention calendar?

On Monday from 11:30 – 4:30, SPARK will team up with partners from Massachusetts, Quebec, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Oslo, UK Golden Triangle, Catalonia, and the Paris Region to present cutting edge innovations in oncology at the 6th International Cancer Cluster Showcase. Each cluster will present their oncology pipelines in compact 20-minute presentations, so it’s the perfect opportunity to learn about the latest innovations and a great precursor for partnering meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Why did you get an MBA eight years after getting a PhD in cancer research?

The two degrees are actually a perfect combination. After finishing my PhD I did about eight years of basic science which was very rewarding, but also a little heartbreaking because I never saw the work translated. That’s what made me do the MBA – now I get to see all the cool science and get to see them translate – at Stanford University no less. How perfect is that?

#BIO2017: A Peek at Partnering | UC Berkeley

Breaking Buzz is BIO’s newest blog series that reaches across the globe to bring you an insider’s preview into the hottest international and partnering trends coming to San Diego for the BIO International Convention.

A Day in the Life of a Partnering Powerhouse

UC Berkeley has had a whopping 600+ products commercialized from its research since it started counting in the 1980s. Its success stories range from mega blockbusters like CRISPR/CAS 9 to some of the early research and development of iplimumab. No matter how large or small, each of the hundreds of products is worthy of fulfilling the Berkeley School of Public Health’s mission: to improve population health, especially for the most vulnerable.

One big obstacle, however, is that as a non-profit, Berkeley is unable to commercialize the cool technologies being developed on campus, so they have to look at things differently than many of their research and development counterparts. Top of the list: they must find industry partners to license their IP. This takes time, instinctive focus and without a doubt, stamina.

Akash Bakshi, Berkeley’s resident IP and industry research authority, knows all about trusting his instincts and building stamina. He singularly held 59 BIO One-on-One Partnering™ meetings last year at the BIO International Convention in San Francisco; with a remarkable 75% follow-up return – an accomplishment he says required first and foremost, persistence.

Breaking Buzz talks with the persistent partnering Phenom in a recent interview:

AKASH:  Be persistent because companies are busy. Don’t leave it to them to sort though and find your invitation. If you haven’t heard back and your gut tells you there’s a good reason to connect, persist!

BB: There are thousands of companies within the partnering system. How do you know who to pursue?

AKASH: I look for companies that overlap with our research strengths – whether in biomedical engineering, immunology, or molecular and cellular biology, companies who seek new insight in the life sciences. Those are the ones that always make great partners!

BB: Can you tell us more about what happened after the 59 meetings in San Francisco last year?

AKASH: Almost 75% of the meetings we set up last year resulted in further discussions about UC Berkeley’s Innovation Ecosystem, IP licensing, and even employment for our students. I attribute the high return rate on Berkeley’s breadth and research strengths. People understand we are a powerhouse for early-stage R&D. Industry knows we have the intellectual capital to do amazing stuff.

BB: How do you characterize a successful Partnering experience?

AKASH: Some folks might assess their success at BIO as the number of transactions that were completed; our view is that this is more about relationships. Success comes anytime we can collaborate to improve or validate early-stage findings and licensing IP; when we get feedback on potential technologies, investments and funding for our startups, and the hiring of our graduates.

The other side of the story is that we get good insight from industry about why they were NOT currently interested in the ideas we presented – it might be because regulatory hurdles are too high, or the project is too small. Regardless, it’s allowed me to give feedback to the faculty member to rethink the original applications.

BB: Who is on your radar as we approach the BIO International Convention in San Diego?

AKASH:  There are updates that I’m eager to share with some of the people I met with last year in San Francisco. But I’m just as excited about finding new partners this June in San Diego; companies that share our quest for innovation in the life sciences.

BB: Sounds like you’ll have another very busy BIO experience. How do you do it?

AKASH: This year there will be two of us, so my record of 59 meetings will hopefully double. But ultimately, I focus on the satisfaction I get from finding and developing ongoing relationships within an industry I love.

Well that, and a steady stream of Venti Caffe Lattes!