Recognizing the value of entrepreneurship, City of Hope has launched a pilot program to fund early stage development of promising clinical and research technologies. Called the Enterprise Fund, it will facilitate the commercialization of these technologies through small grant awards.
Innovation, invention and an entrepreneurial spirit are important underpinnings of City of Hope culture and the organization’s mission. They also contribute significantly to the institution’s financial well-being. According to the latest available figures, royalty revenue equaled nearly $74 million of the 2005 fiscal year budget.
New biomedical technologies, however, can require millions of dollars in funding before reaching the market, benefiting patients and bringing returns on the investment. Venture capitalists and the biopharmaceutical industry are the traditional sources of this financial backing. Both are increasingly shy about funding unproven, early stage prospects, however. In addition, they do not often consider smaller investments, preferring larger deals that can provide a healthier return on investment. This catch-22 situation leaves investigators in the lurch, unable to obtain the gap funds needed to prove their concepts worthy of venture or corporate investment.
The Enterprise Fund addresses this dilemma, providing seed monies to finance qualified projects through the crucial early stages of precommercial translation and development. The program will provide small grants of $5,000 to $15,000 for projects that are not reasonably fundable by conventional means. These amounts are enough to create prototypes, fund small evaluative studies, such as toxicology analyses, or pay for consulting grant writers. Grant writers are especially important, as they can be critical for obtaining Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) grants from the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies. SBIR/STTR grants are themselves gap funds intended to carry promising technologies to the next level of investment and closer to implementation in the market.
The number of SBIR/STTR grants obtained via Enterprise Fund awards is a key measure of success for the new program. Start-ups formed, venture capital investments, corporate investment in commercialization-focused collaborative research, and licensing of intellectual property round out the initial list of success metrics.
City of Hope’s venture into this arena places it among a growing number of academic-based institutions employing similar programs. About 80 institutions in the region offer similar programs of varying size.
“We’re hoping this program will promote an entrepreneurial spirit among our investigators,” said Larry A. Couture, Ph.D., senior vice president of the Center for Applied Technology Development, which is administering the program. “Our goal is to make City of Hope technologies attractive as licensing and investment opportunities and move them to the commercial sector where they can be properly commercialized and ultimately help patients.”
In addition, the program aims to foster relationships with life-sciences venture firms, including members of the Southern California Biomedical Council (SCBC). The SCBC promotes and supports biomedical and biotechnology research, development and manufacturing in the Greater Los Angeles region for economic development and job creation.
The Center for Applied Technology Development plans to publish a request for applications for the Enterprise Fund in March.