Innovation Exchange Amsterdam (IXA) is the centralized knowledge transfer office of Amsterdam-based universities. Since 2019, Cancer Center Amsterdam has a dedicated IXA alliance office to assist oncology researchers in creating value from their expertise and discoveries. Business development managers Marianka van der Tol and Timo Smets share their thoughts and insights on their work for Cancer Center Amsterdam.
Who is involved in valorization at Cancer Center Amsterdam?
Marianka: “We have a valorization board under the leadership of Arjen Brussaard, and valorization officers Martine Chamuleau and Michiel Pegtel. We meet with them once every two weeks and discuss things like: How do we want to valorize and on what topics? Which way do we want to go?”
What do you do?
Marianka: “Our core task is the valorization of research. This involves things like helping researchers develop their ideas, protect intellectual property (IP), start a company, or collaborate with outside parties. We then work to make sure all parties – the researcher, university, and third party – receive a fair return if a company generates profits with the knowledge. We also have legal and project management support from IXA, and help to find investors. We are also involved in ADORE.
Scouting win-win collaborations
Timo: “First we look at what the researchers are doing at Cancer Center Amsterdam – what are their priorities? Then, we network and attend pharmaceutical and biotech conferences to scout for new opportunities for collaboration. We invest a lot of time getting to know companies. What are they doing? What is important to them? Then we try to find a match. We are really aiming for that win-win collaboration.”
Marianka: “Yes, it’s no use if you only collaborate purely for money – that is often doomed to fail! Both parties need to have a common goal – a genuine interest in the research results – even if there are different agendas. And companies usually have different agendas than we do.
“We work hard to cultivate contacts at as many companies as possible. Sometimes you have an immediate hit, but in other cases you just need to be patient – if you have something come up at a later time – then you can make a match more easily.”
Marianka: “We also work to make researchers aware of our existence. We do pitches at department meetings and offer our support in crafting TKI grants. IXA organizes a number of workshops and courses about valorization, entrepreneurship, sharing research results, and collaborating with external parties, all free of charge. We hope this interview will reach new people as well!”
Marianka: “Collaborations between academic centers and business is becoming more and more important. For example, start-ups nowadays are often “virtual” companies that need to outsource part of their research activities to academia. Resources for academia such as public funding and grants often require private partners to join the consortium. In addition, technology is evolving fast and society faces a lot of urgent issues. Knowledge transfer – whether or not in exchange for a share of the company’s future income by licensing the universities’ IP – is one way of putting research results to work quickly to benefit society.”
Timo: “Valorization creates value from knowledge. You take knowledge and translate that knowledge into innovations that can reach patients in need of better treatments. Given the regulatory landscape and costs involved – say in making new drugs or running trials – researchers partnering with outside enterprises is really the best way to improve the situation for patients with cancer.”
When are research results or ideas suited for valorization?
Timo: “Basically, if it can add value to the patient – examples are new potential drugs or biomarkers for diagnostics.”
Marianka: “The moment you’re somewhere in your research and you think, ‘Hey, but now I can really see what this could mean in practice.’ Then you have something that could be an invention – that can be patented – and you may need to collaborate with industry partners to develop it. Of course, not everything fits with a corporate partner. Occasionally, it is better to set up a spin off company from the university, rather than out licensing it. In that case, we help by finding investors or setting up a CEO or management team. From then on – of course – the company has to take it from there.”
How do TKI grants help?
Marianka: “Academic researchers can sometimes be reluctant to let commercial interests into their research. The great thing about these Amsterdam UMC TKI grants is that it can be an easier way to approach a commercial company. In advance you establish clear responsibilities and task divisions in research, labor, and development that can feel more comfortable to those involved.
“In TKI grants, the academic institution and a company both do part of the research. There is emphasis that the company can’t just contribute money, but they also have to make an ‘in-kind’ contribution, say in staff hours.”
Timo: “There are different levels depending on the stage of the research. What you mainly see is that most researchers apply for late pre-clinical (“industrial”) TKI grants. But bigger grants are available for proposals with a lower technology readiness level – so more explorative research. If the project costs between 300,000 to 750,000 euros, 75% is then funded by the TKI grant. 15% has to come from the company or companies, and 10% must come from the academic institution itself. For smaller companies, the 15% contribution is covered by in-kind contributions, like work hours or service provisions. The IP created with the TKI grant is initially ours – the university’s – but the involved company always has the first option to license and their 15% investment can optionally be deducted from licensing fees.”
Marianka: “TKI grants are also good for supporting larger collaborations involving multiple academic institutions and companies. That can give more to power to your work plan and more expertise that can be incorporated.”
For more information about valorization of you research, check the website or contact our business developers at the IXA alliance office at Cancer Center Amsterdam.
This article was created for Cancer Center Amsterdam.
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