Burnham Snags $50M Gift, Sparks Translation of Basic Science into New Treatments

1/26/10Follow @xconomy

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commercial partners to help sponsor further research. Laikind didn’t want to comment yesterday about the impact of the donation on tech transfer, but that much seems obvious.

When I sat down last month with Laikind in a Burnham conference room, he was talking about something that will be a challenge no matter what. He talked about carefully navigating a new culture, and making sure science isn’t just done for science’s sake. “It’s the Burnham Institute for MEDICAL Research, not just research,” Laikind says. “The motto here is to translate cutting edge science into products that can benefit patients.”

Lots of academic centers say that same thing, but it’s rare for an academic institution to have someone like Laikind with the knowledge of the whole gauntlet of clinical trials and regulatory hurdles that drugmakers need to navigate for years after a basic biomedical discovery is made.

But there are cultural differences Laikind was definitely adjusting to in his first few weeks on the job. Being a CEO means he’s in a position to tell a lot of people what to do, and expect them do it. That’s not quite how it works in academia. “In a company you can direct things and set goals, while at an institution you talk to the scientists and everybody has to buy in,” Laikind says.

So what are the goals in terms of commercial applications, I wondered? It will likely involve a mix of startup formation and licensing of technologies to drugmakers, Laikind says. He’s also interested in what he called “thematic” collaborations, in which say, a company with interest in neurodegenerative diseases agreed to sponsor some research of top Burnham researchers in the field, in return for some rights to commercialize the fruits of the science. Another idea being kicked around is for an incubator to help nurture ideas with commercial potential, Laikind says.

Some might wonder why a place with great basic research, with people who unravel the mysteries of what genes and cells do, would want to get more involved with the more directed, profit-driven world of pharmaceuticals. It really boils down to recognizing … Next Page »

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