08 February, 2023
I am just coming to the end of my final year as the Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence for the Babraham Institute. It has been an amazing journey and a privilege to serve the institute scientists to get on the road to translating their science.
Where it all began
The process started back in 2019 when I knew I was coming to the end of my time at GlaxoSmithKline but was not yet ready to retire. I had been leading academic industry collaborations for the last seven years taking early-stage research and developing it into something ready for clinical trials. During that time, it became clear to me that academics from all over the world were prone to making the same errors and that just small changes to their research plans could make a big impact on their ability to move their research into a more applied direction. If you are curious to what these small changes are, read on! When the Royal Society posted their Entrepreneur in Residence scheme, this looked like an excellent opportunity to give back some of my experience to the academic community.
The early days
I approached the Royal Society, and they suggested I contact Karolina Zapadka at the Babraham Institute as that could be a potential place of interest. So, in summer of 2019, I came to the Institute and met with Karolina, Fátima Kranc and Michael Wakelam. We discussed the research interests of the institute and to cut a long story short, Michael agreed to sponsor my application titled ‘Accelerating the development of early-stage research and technologies at the Babraham Institute with a view to translation’. I received the grant and my plan was to come four days a month to the Institute for a few months before moving to a more virtual real-time platform. I arrived in February 2020 and during my first couple of days people were very welcoming but they weren’t really sure who I was or what I was doing. However, by the third day, I was being asked to join meetings and set up discussions with scientists and help prepare applicants for some proof-of-concept funding. I came again in early March 2020 and met a lot more people and saw a lot of great science. I got back to Poland on the 8th March followed shortly by lockdown. This accelerated my planned move to virtual meetings but also prepared the whole world to work remotely. It many ways it was helpful as I had a ‘captive audience’ although I always prefer seeing people face-to-face.
Secrets of commercialisation
During the project I concentrated on finding out about the research group leaders were doing and helping them see potential areas of translation. I also presented seminars on the basics of translation and how tweaking the way research is done now can have a huge impact later when the research is ripe for commercialisation. If you are wondering what those tweaks are, here is a quick reminder:
It was a few months after one of these meetings when one the group leaders came up and told me “I took your advice and bought a cell line to that could be used commercially”. Success – this probably saved about two years in the research plan. It is not always the big things to which you need to pay attention; small steps are just as important.
Looking where you’re heading
I have also helped several groups to think about who the final user will be and their needs, giving their project a customer focus. I was able to find clinical experts and practitioners to contact who most suited the projects and could provide valuable expertise at the customer end of the translational pathway. As a consequence, there are some very productive ongoing collaborations. Knowing where you are heading is very important because then you can work backwards from your goal to develop a research plan that gathers the data to meet the end point. For example, there is no point making a medicine that isn't needed, is too complicated to use, too costly or simply not cost-effective.
Another important element of commercialisation is data collection and management. Industry investors and collaborators will perform due diligence by checking their research partners data integrity. This is just as important for editors of journals. I worked with researchers on a data audit at the Institute and together we identified gaps and where things could improve. Mostly this will involve small changes but will help you immensely long term. I can promise you that after 3 months you might remember what Experiment 1 was but a year later you will have no clue so give the experiment a title that is unique!
My own reflections
On a personal level, I did not appreciate how much I would learn from so many of the people working at the Institute. Not only did everyone help me to ‘up’ my skills in tech transfer knowledge from the academic side, but I have adopted some of the Institute’s best practice in my other role as the Director of the Malopolska Centre of Biotechnology at the Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland. For example, I implemented an European Research Council preparation process for our applicants and have had success in our first life-science grants. I have felt at home within the Institute from the day I arrived. People have welcomed me, the science has been fantastic, and the Entrepreneur in Residence role has helped to keep me level-headed especially during the pandemic.
08 February 2023