Bridging the Gap: The Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center's technology transfer program may serve as a Department of Defense model for speeding viable medical innovations to the aid of our service members
Only a small percentage of medical research projects result in a new product on the market. If Ron Marchessault has his way, the U.S. military will see more and more promising technologies put into use to improve the care of our service members.
Marchessault is the director of technology transfer and commercialization for the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command's Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center. TATRC's goal is to translate research into new products to advance the care of the nation's warfighters.
TATRC is deeply aware that it must encourage that next breakthrough that will enhance military health -- while making the most effective use of the federal funds that it stewards.
For this reason, the center charged Marchessault with developing a comprehensive commercialization program for the more than 1,800 research projects it manages at universities, government labs and high-tech start-up companies. It's a charge he takes seriously since a funded research project is only half the journey to providing solutions for Soldiers while bringing the lessons learned from war to the benefit of the wider society.
"Developing commercially viable technology requires more than a quick marketing survey," says Marchessault. "To determine what we should fund, we must find out whether a new technology solves an important problem, and who would purchase it."
Marchessault has been managing technology research projects for TATRC since 1998. In 2009, he was asked to create a formal program to leverage federal investment with private sector capital to commercialize federal medical research and development technologies. Since then, he has developed an innovative technology transfer program. His holistic approach is helping TATRC assess and guide the commercial potential of new discoveries and technologies, connect researchers with investors, and evaluate the economic impact of the precious research dollars the center manages for the military.
His hope is that TATRC's pilot program will become a blueprint for others in the DoD.
Marchessault has sought out several strategic partners and resources to provide the business expertise that must marry with science to create a marketable product. The first two years have seen many successes.
Market Overview Analysis
Fifteen TATRC small business partners demonstrating technologies with strong commercial potential were selected in 2011 for market overview analyses by FirstLink, a DoD technology transfer partner. One company, Tursiop Technologies, has developed nanotechnology for magnetic resonance imaging that dramatically decreases the size of the magnet needed, thus reducing the cost. It has now obtained the third-party funding needed to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.
"Discovery to Market" Project
Student teams from the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School Global MBA program presented commercialization plans for eight TATRC projects in December 2011, marking the first such DoD/university technology transfer partnership. TATRC projects included in the program ranged from an e-learning system for surgical skills to a wearable robotic arm to a mobile diabetes self-care system. The students gained vital experience in applying business theory to assist high-tech start-up companies, while the researchers gained intellectual property research and in-depth marketing analyses that easily could have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. Students in this year's "Discovery to Market" class are now working with a second group of TATRC-funded investigators.
Online Commercialization Assessment Tools
After exploring several online commercialization assessment programs, Marchessault has introduced TATRC partners to EquityNet, a proven, metric-based program for determining commercialization viability. Ten companies are now participating in the program, which includes a business plan analysis, expert business support and opportunity assessment research.
For those technologies "ready for prime time," networking is another key part of TATRC's Technology Transfer Program. Marchessault has teamed with the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds to connect promising research with private investment.
Marketing Campaign to Private Sector Developers
Last year the NASVF developed a marketing campaign to aid in TATRC's commercialization goals. Through careful messaging and positioning in the healthcare business ecosystem, TATRC-funded companies with commercially viable technologies are being promoted to investors.
Networking through NASVF
Select small business partners seeking private sector capital have had the opportunity to pitch their companies to angel investors and the venture capital community through two NASVF meetings co-sponsored by TATRC. In Baltimore in 2010, three companies presented, and Blacktoe Medical III obtained the funding needed to pursue FDA approval for its SonicEyeÂ® finger-mounted ultrasound technology. At an Arlington, Texas, meeting in August 2011, three additional companies presented products ranging from a system to coordinate data from all devices in the operating room, to cloud computing technology for health information technology.
Four similar opportunities throughout the United States are planned for 2012.
Marchessault believes the best way to help translate research into a commercial product is to consider the market potential from the outset. Several programs are underway to educate and encourage investigators as well as reviewers to incorporate business analyses throughout their project timetables.
Commercialization Assessment and Mentorship Program
In a program with the Larta Institute, a not-for-profit firm that has assisted several federal agencies with commercialization efforts, 10 TATRC projects were matched with external industry experts in early 2011. These experts evaluated the projects' commercialization potential, served as mentors, and developed strategies for future private sector investment. Several of the companies were contacted by outside investors. One company, Livedata, Inc., brought to market an integrated data system for patient safety that generated $5 million in sales by August 2011. A second group of 10 TATRC partners is now working with the Larta Institute.
Medical Technology Transfer Symposium
TATRC organized a two-day symposium with the University of Nebraska Medical Center in May 2011. The Midwest Medical Technology Exchange enabled TATRC researchers in the Midwest to network with regional investors and discuss critical elements of technology commercialization. In this purely educational exchange, inventors were the audience as investors presented perspectives and information pertaining to commercialization. The event was well received and generated ideas that will help TATRC prioritize future projects based on their commercial potential. Marchessault hopes to offer a similar symposium on the West Coast in the near future.
Technology Acceleration Website
To bring market analysis capabilities to all of TATRC's small business partners, Marchessault is working with the Jacob Tyler Creative Group to develop a microsite with customized content focused on commercialization strategies. The online "toolbox" will feature project management evaluation tools as well as educational and training resources for both researchers and reviewers. It is expected to be available through TATRC's website by the fall of 2012.
With "accountability" as his watchword, Marchessault is also integrating a final pillar into TATRC's Technology Transfer Program. He has shown that of approximately 1,800 projects funded through TATRC since 2000, 2.3% have resulted in a commercial product, generating $209M in sales from a total federal investment of $74M.
Furthermore, in an extensive economic impact analysis project, Econsult Corporation is gathering validated data on TATRC-funded medical research and development expenditures. Data includes job creation/retention, salaries, follow-on funding, published patents, state and federal tax revenue, and sales revenue.
The first report is expected to be completed by the fall of 2012.
Marchessault notes, "For TATRC, it's not enough to have good science alone. Projects must meet a clinical need and often have commercial viability."