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B-Schools Innovate In Life Sciences Sector With Biotechnology Start-Ups

Universities boost life sciences ventures and partner big pharma to drive industry innovation.

Wed Jul 29 2015

Business schools and universities are boosting life sciences start-ups and partnering big pharma groups including AstraZeneca to help ventures become high-flyers in the booming biotechnology sector.

Spanish business school IESE hosted biotech innovators this week as part of EIT Health, the European healthcare initiative aiming to incubate 80 start-ups by 2016, and engage a million students by 2018.

The program was designed to help healthcare entrepreneurs adopt the practical skills required to drive innovation. IESE participants learned to develop business plans, manage projects and seek funding.

Investment in biotech surged 32% in the US last year to $2.3 billion, according to a report from MoneyTree, PwC and the National Venture Capital Association.

“It’s a chance for participants to acquire the entrepreneurial skills they need to turn their ideas into viable business projects,” said Prof Magda Rosenmöller, senior lecturer at IESE’s Center for Research in Healthcare Innovation Management.

“Innovation in healthcare matters,” she added. “The transformation of services and how they are delivered has direct implications for an increasingly knowledge-based economy.”

The program was the final leg of the EIT Summer School, organized by IESE and Trinity College Dublin in partnership with Imperial College London, Biocat, Uppsala and Ghent University.

Also this summer Cambridge Judge Business School and AstraZeneca, the UK’s second largest pharmaceuticals group, announced a collaboration.

The Accelerate Cambridge Life Sciences program aims to identify, train and mentor start-up ventures in the life sciences industry.  

Christoph Loch, director of Cambridge Judge Business School, said the agreement will help a new generation of life sciences ventures benefit from the school’s expertise.

AstraZeneca has strong ties to the Cambridge area, where the company is building a new global R&D centre and corporate headquarters.

Menelas Pangalos, AstraZeneca executive VP of innovative medicines and early development, said support from the group will be “invaluable” for entrepreneurs developing new ventures.

He added that AstraZeneca will benefit from exposure to early stage innovation.

Cambridge this summer also held its first Biotech Startup Weekend, which saw teams pitch their concepts to a panel of expert judges, with the winning teams supported in taking their ventures forward.

Life sciences start-ups that took part include nSense, which is developing a better way of detecting leukaemia, Zoomph, an app that aids recovery from chemotherapy, and Endotraps, which is developing a novel therapeutic strategy as treatment of pre-eclampsia.

Hanadi Jabado, director of Accelerate Cambridge, the business school’s venture accelerator, said: “Start-up weekends are the ideal place for budding entrepreneurs and innovators to meet like-minded people and test their ideas.”

UK universities have strong ties to big pharma. Collaborations include the Rare Diseases Consortium between Pfizer and universities including Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College to develop medicines for rare diseases.

Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline also have partnerships with UK academic institutions.

Activity in UK life sciences is on the upswing, with funding at a 10-year high at £2.4 billion, according to the UK Bioindustry Association.

Other European based universities are championing healthcare innovation. Germany’s Frankfurt School of Finance & Management has injected innovation management into its healthcare MBA.

“The potential of e-health and digital solutions are high,” said Dr Rainer Sibbel, at Frankfurt’s Institute for International Health Management.

But much of the innovation is led by US institutions.

Berkeley’s Haas business school engages with healthcare start-ups nearby in Silicon Valley, said Kimberly MacPherson, associate director of health management.

Fred Hagigi, director of Global Health Initiatives at UCLA Anderson School of Management, said the effect of IT on healthcare in particular is a major focus.

Jeremy Petranka at Fuqua School’s Health Sector Management program highlighted the increasing use of data and analytics in clinical trials as well as IT more generally.

“There is a huge opportunity for innovation in this sphere, in a way that will help both patients and the bottom line,” he said.