The Michigan Department of Surgery has embarked upon a new approach, modeled on contract research organizations, to identify and promote new opportunities for fee-for-service contracts with industry. We have called this idea the Accelerated Business Engagement Program. Its potential advantages include the ability to conclude contracts much more rapidly than typical for sponsored research; generation of revenue which may be reinvested into the research enterprise; and potentiation of value produced by high-capacity laboratories.
We believe that proactive scientific outreach to potential biomedical and pharmaceutical customers is key to success. To this end, the Department of Surgery created the position of Senior Director of Business Development, and recruited an individual who worked previously as Michigan Medicine Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations. His task is to identify many new prospective research partners for surgical faculty. This goal is accomplished by contacting the chief scientific officers of biomedical firms, large and small, in order to understand their future research needs and to offer potential University of Michigan matches. This individual actively reaches out to potential partners, for example by attending national consortia of biomedical and pharmaceutical firms.
Faculty participation in the program is voluntary. When faculty express interest in pursuing contract research opportunities with industry partners, the following aspects are considered:
- Does surplus laboratory or research capacity exist that could be made available to non-University of Michigan entities?
- Is the research or service sufficiently routine that it can be conducted without daily faculty oversight?
- Is the investigator at a point in his or her career to allow results from these service studies to not be published? Because some contracts may not allow for publication of proprietary data, we do not permit involvement of medical or graduate students, surgical house staff or postdoctoral fellows who need to publish for career advancement.
- Is it acceptable to the investigator that the service does not generate new intellectual property? In this model, the ideas and intellectual property reside with the industrial partner.
The distinction between contract services and research is crucial. To guide this differentiation, a decision tree was established.
Proposals that qualify as contract services are delivered to industry partners via a single, standard terms of service document. The development of a uniform definition of contract services, delegated decision-making and a single template for terms of work have been critical to create an efficient to contract research agreements. There are several key advantages. Inquiries from external entities can be decided quickly, with the expectation of a 24-hour reply. The standard approach can be utilized multiple times per year with little needed effort on the behalf of individual faculty. Eligible faculty can more easily utilize excess laboratory capacity and generate additional funding for research. We believe the process is sustainable over the long run.
Importantly this new approach to industry-academic collaborations can provide a diversified revenue stream for supporting academic research. In every department of surgery, large investments have been made in the intellectual and physical infrastructure for research. This model provides for a way to leverage those existing investments. We believe that this approach is complimentary to the more traditional models that commercializes discoveries from academic laboratories.
Article by Michael Mulholland, MD, PhD (Twitter: @MWMulhollandMD)
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Department of Surgery
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