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New Member Spotlight: Johns Hopkins University

UIDP welcomes Johns Hopkins University (JHU) as a new member organization. We spoke with Sean Evans, director of corporate partnerships, life sciences. and Seth Zonies, director of corporate partnerships, engineering, about the university’s reasons for joining the UIDP family.

UIDP: What is JHU hoping to gain from membership with UIDP in the coming year?

JHU: Johns Hopkins is committed to the active cultivation of strategic industry partnerships that leverage our world-class research capabilities and talent. Our corporate partnerships team at Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (the commercialization and entrepreneurship hub of the university) has managed over $100 million in corporate collaborations since 2015. Through UIDP, Johns Hopkins hopes to further strengthen our approach to industry partnerships, exchange best practices in the management of academia-industry collaborations, and develop new collaborations!

UIDP: What are the current challenges that JHU faces in the development of university-industry partnerships?

JHU: There are several:

  1. Identifying appropriate partners and efficiently executing partnerships;
  2. Ensuring that the overhead costs associated with a research collaboration are funded (i.e., indirect [IDC] costs); and
  3. Exposing industry partners and corporate investment arms to the momentum on campus and in Baltimore with respect to partnerships and investments.
    1. The benefits of working with JHU and in Baltimore (DC-Maryland-Virginia region) include:
      1. an unparalleled level of innovation as the country’s largest recipient of federal research dollars;
      2. particular leadership in, among other areas:
        • healthcare/life sciences research;
        • public health;
        • nursing;
        • medical robotics;
        • natural language technology;
        • artificial intelligence; and
        • big data;
      3. opportunities to perform exploratory research with key opinion leaders without costly R&D investments;
      4. opportunities to establish brand awareness and attract top talent to R&D groups; and
      5. location on the East Coast in a diverse and affordable city close to multiple other leading academic institutions (that are not picked over by other industry partners) and federal research institutions (NIH) as well as federal regulatory bodies.

UIDP: In what innovative ways is JHU making an impact on U-I interactions?

JHU: Our technology transfer office has evolved into a holistic technology commercialization office (Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures [JHTV] that includes a group focused on both establishing and managing university-industry research partnerships. Our group can also be used as the front door to other offices/groups within the University (e.g., licensing, university startups, student and post-doc careers office, philanthropy, etc.). Many of our corporate partners chose to sponsor our innovation hubs, for example, which provides them access to the approximately 160 Johns Hopkins startups that comprise JHTV’s startup portfolio.

Another way is JHU’s sponsored research agreement summary terms document, which provides simple explanations for key terms in our research contract. We expect this document will make the negotiation process easier and lead to a faster path to deal execution.

Finally, our senior leadership is very supportive and involved in our industry partnerships.

UIDP: Can you share an example of a particularly successful U-I project or partnership?

JHU: Our institution has multiple past and current successful U-I partnerships that have primarily been focused on co-discovery/development of novel therapeutics, and we are excited to expand those partnerships into areas that involve deep expertise in data science.

For example, JHU and biotech company United Therapeutics Corporation have teamed up to create a new postdoctoral fellowship in the emerging field of computational medicine. The Industry Fellowship in Computational Medicine will provide full funding and an annual salary to recent PhD graduates who will receive training in computational medicine and learn mathematical and engineering approaches used to model lung disease. Fellows also will gain experience in leading interdisciplinary, team-based scientific research, and they will receive mentorship from JHU faculty and United Therapeutics researchers

Another example: AbbVie and JHU have formed a multi-year strategic partnership to advance oncology research and discovery. Research groups at JHU and AbbVie collaborate to co-develop novel therapeutics as well as explore mechanisms and novel uses for existing AbbVie medicines. AbbVie funds interesting and strategically aligned projects through a request for proposal process.

Successful components of our most successful partnerships include clear alignment on partner needs/goals as well as understanding of the partner’s success metrics – sharing a mutual vision of success. Another component is commitment on both sides to a long-term partnership. We find, in most cases, that it takes a while to get up and running before real progress begins. Leadership buy-in and support for the collaboration is also essential.

UIDP: What’s an interesting fact about JHU that people may not know?

JHU: We offer more than just an outstanding academic medical research center, and also have impressive engineering and computer science research and faculty. We were the first to do medical robotics, lead the country in biomedical engineering, and are pioneers in natural language processing, artificial intelligence and machine learning.