Camp Entrepreneur Offers Aspiring Researchers Business Advice

By Victoria Schlesinger

Discovering a cure for cancer or remedy to chronic pain requires one set of skills, and bringing those ideas to market demands another.

To inform and aid UCSF researchers with groundbreaking discoveries, the Center for BioEntrepreneurship is currently hosting a series of Tuesday evening lectures at Genentech Hall, collectively called Camp Entrepreneur.

A recent talk featured the UCSF Office of Technology Management, followed by a presentation by a successful serial entrepreneur Brock Siegel. The four-week series concludes tonight (June 22) with a lecture from UCSF alumnus and vice president of Genentech Partnering James Sabry, MD, PhD, president of Genentech Partnering, who will focus on company development and strategic partnerships.

Sabry is former president and chief executive officer of Arete Therapeutics Inc., a privately held pharmaceutical company discovering and developing first-in-class small-molecule drugs. James is also former CEO and chairman of the board of directors of Cytokinetics, a company he co-founded in August 1997. Sabry received an MD degree from Queen’s University, in Kingston, Canada, and a PhD degree in cell biology from the UCSF.

“In real life it’s difficult to transition from academia to industry unless you have acquired basic business skills,” said Gail Schechter, PhD, director of the Center for BioEntrepreneurship (CBE). The CBE provides many resources such as business classes and opportunities to interact with the experts from the business community. 

UCSF has a strong commitment to helping its researchers bring their discoveries to commercial fruition. Not only do the potential cures benefit humanity, but also the university collects a percentage of the profits from any commercially successful discovery and puts it toward more research.

“The ultimate benefit of enhancing technology development through partnerships is a win-win for academia, industry, the citizens of California, and the world,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD.

Protecting Discoveries

Researchers with potential discoveries should contact is the Office of Technology Management (OTM), which performs commercial assessments of discoveries, files for patents and copyrights, negotiates licenses and collects and distributes the license income. They guide researchers in how to immediately protect their discovery so as not to jeopardize their potential patent.

“We are really the hands-on go-to group here at UCSF for commercializing inventions made here by UCSF employees,” said Joel Kirschbaum, PhD, director of the OTM. “What the inventors need to remember is that they don’t own the invention, it belongs to their employer, so they really shouldn’t be talking about the invention without first disclosing it to us.”

The OTM has amassed a list of impressive credentials. It consistently ranks number one within the University of California system for the number of patents and licenses issued, as well as license income; it averages $66 million annually including litigation settlements. The OTM has helped launch 42 life science start-up companies, several of which have gone public. Currently, 10 of OTM’s licensed therapeutic technologies are in clinical trials.

For an excellent overview of how the world of entrepreneurs operate, the CBE offers accredited classes in business skills. Their most popular and well-known course — Idea to IPO — is coming up on its tenth year and boasts graduates who in total have received some $15 million in start-up funding during the past three years, according to Schechter.

“The mission of the CBE is to educate aspiring entrepreneurs in business skills, facilitate the development of innovative technologies, and promote interactions between academic scientists and industry leaders, It helps aspiring entrepreneurs handle themselves competently as they transition from academia to industry, which is a popular career path these days,” said Schechter.

UCSF also supports the development of discoveries through the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), established in 2000 by then-Governor Gray Davis to accelerate discovery and innovation in California. A consortium between the University of California Berkeley, Santa Cruz and San Francisco campuses, QB3 helps foster relationships between researchers and industry, provides facilities, networks, courses and proof-of-concept funding.

Late last year, QB3 helped establish Mission Bay Capital, an independent venture firm devoted to supporting nascent bioscience companies coming out of UCSF. The $7.5 million fund aims to help bridge the financial gap many early-stage companies face as they proceed to test their concepts. The fund is co-managed pro bono by QB3’s director Regis Kelly, PhD, and associate director Douglas Crawford, PhD.

The fund made its first investment in April, taking a stake in Redwood Bioscience, a local company whose biotherapeutics technology is licensed from UC Berkeley. The fund is looking to support another 14 companies in the coming four years.

Related Links:

Center for Bioentrepreneurship

2010 Economic Impact Report