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Understanding your counterparties in technology transfer and healthcare innovation.

Understanding your counterparties in technology transfer and healthcare innovation.

Christian Suojanen
Co-Founder - TTS Global Initiative
Chairman of the ENTENTE Industry Advisory Board

Over the past several years, there has been a growing focus on and prioritization of technology transfer as a key component in the innovation value chain of the biotech, pharma and healthcare sectors.  While many factors have impacted this, perhaps the key driver has been the change in the pharma industry drug discovery and development innovation paradigm. 

While Thomas Kuhn’s concept of a paradigm shift is commonly misused to describe any change in processes, it must be agreed that the changes in how the pharma industry innovates are nothing short of fundamental, and might not have taken place in the absence of the patent cliff that forced big pharma to re-evaluate their entire approach to drug discovery and development.  The resulting emphasis on external R&D and collaborative innovation provides not only enormous strategic opportunity to research institutes to engage with industry in more systemic, strategic collaborations than were previously possibly, but have also result in ever increasing demands on technology transfer, licensing and commercialization offices to become expert in much more than the traditional tools of patenting, intellectual property management, and licensing.

Walter Valdivia, in his recent report, identifies an emerging emphasis on the “nurturing start-ups model” of technology transfer (“University Start-Ups: Critical for Improving Technology Transfer,” Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings, November 2013), and both forecasts and prescribes a greater focus on start-ups as a key vehicle for technology transfer, and argues that this requires whole new skill-sets and competencies within university technology transfer offices.  At the TTS Global Initiative, we agree, but see the start-up/spin-out model as just one of several and not a one-size-fits-all solution.  The discussions debate at the TTS Global Initiative summits over the past seven years have shown consistently a significant level of consensus amongst the many crucial stakeholder groups in the biotech, pharma and healthcare value chains that the best approach to advancing a technology from the lab to the market and to patients is determine on a case by case basis, with some opportunities being best served by traditional licensing, other via research collaborations or sponsored research, others by grant funding on a project basis, and others still by spin-out or other means.  Each of these requires significant expertise, and the initial determination of which approach is best requires not only deep scientific and technical due diligence and Intellectual Property expertise, but real understanding of the market and key stakeholders and partners needed to advance the technology in question.   Technology offices already have very challenging missions, and for all but the best-resourced technology offices, building a team which has all of these skills in house will be a massive challenge.

This is where the ENTENTE professional exchanges can offer a real solution and a step in the right direction.  For European technology transfer and licensing offices and their officers with at least two years experience, the European Commission funded FP7 ENTENTE project offers the possibility of undertaking a professional secondment or exchange of up to 6 weeks with either another leading technology transfer office, or with other key stakeholder and counterparties such as venture capital funds, corporate venture, pharma research alliance management and licensing offices, and other such groups. The goal is for the technology officer to undergo an immersion in the counterparty’s organization, getting to know their counterparts and to develop a much better professional understanding of their organization, processes and priorities, as well as their approach to deal-making. The overall objective is to build the professional capacity of technology transfer officers, and to deepen their relationships with key stakeholders with who they may eventually do deals, while building the professional relationships and understanding needed to ensure an efficient negotiation process not complicated by simple misunderstandings. More broadly, the objective is to get TTOs to think outside the box and to understand the perspective of other organizations with whom they will need to negotiate, collaborate, or both, in order to more efficiently carry out their objectives.

The ENTENTE professional exchanges are not meant to replace traditional TTO training, and we highly recommend such programs offered by the leading technology transfer associations world-wide, including in Europe by the ENTENTE consortium partner ASTP-ProTon. The professional exchanges rather are meant to develop the market awareness, understanding of the key drivers, processes and priorities of key stakeholders with whom they will need to work, and the networks of professional relationships TTOs need to more efficiently serve their mandates of bringing the benefits of public research to patients, society and the market.

Currently, some 21 TTOs have been selected for professional exchanges at a range of host organizations, including Inserm Transfert, MRC Technology, Ascenion GmbH, the Office of Technology Transfer of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), SROne (the corporate venture arm of GSK), the Wellcome Trust, Novartis Venture Fund, DRI Capital Royalty Fund, and many more.  The next calls for applications for the exchanges will be in 2014 and 2015.  To see the full list of Host Organizations with which ENTENTE professional exchanges are available, and to be informed of the next call for applications for exchange candidates, please go to and make sure to join the ENTENTE community.  Membership in ENTENTE is open to all, but only officers at European Union (and associated country) technology transfer, licensing and commercialization offices are eligible to participate in the professional exchanges.

Editorial from Newsletter 2, January 2014

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Programme for 
research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No 305128
  ENTENTE is supported by the European Commission and coordinated by Inserm-Transfert SA