The mission of Wake Forest Innovations is to improve health through collaborative innovation. The recent Open Thinking technology showcase at Wake Forest Biotech Place put that concept on display, with researchers celebrating their inventive successes alongside leading industry and business experts.
For Wake Forest Innovations, collaborative innovation means reaching across the table and fostering cross-disciplinary relationships between industry and research. The various events at Open Thinking highlighted examples of this kind of collaboration, including partnerships with investors, relationships with industry and open communication with the community at-large.
At Open Thinking, new partnerships took center stage, with life science investor Art Pappas presenting the Catalyst Fund, a $15 million technology development program created by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and managed by his firm—Pappas Capital—to accelerate the development and commercialization of technologies at Wake Forest Baptist.
Targeted investment opportunities, like the fund headlined by Pappas, are key to growing and sustaining successful academic innovation.
“This is a unique collaborative model with exceptional strategic potential to leverage life science inventions at Wake Forest Baptist and further build the innovation ecosystem,” Pappas remarked of the Catalyst Fund. “We’re optimistic about investing here.”
A seasoned investor, Pappas has more than 30 years of experience as a pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry executive and venture capital investor in life science companies. His company has managed $450 million in capital and invested in more than 70 life science companies since its founding in 1994.
The Catalyst Fund aims to invest in several dozen high-potential Wake Forest Baptist technologies over the next three to five years, resulting in up to products ready for license or to be spun off as separate companies. Pappas shared the top traits he looks for in investable ideas: inventor passion, a simple but effective plan, a robust internal support system and a novel, top tier product that offers more than a modest improvement on existing clinical care – it offers a significant advance for an important unmet medical need.
“We’re interested in ideas that are going to change the medical landscape,” he said. “The most valuable discoveries now are coming directly from medical research institutions like Wake Forest Baptist.”
Some of the opportunities for collaborative innovation on display at Open Thinking were inventions from Wake Forest Baptist faculty. Eight inventors from Wake Forest School of Medicine and Wake Forest University featured their medical device, diagnostic and therapeutic technologies through interactive poster presentations and discussions with industry and business experts.
“It’s a great experience to share my technology with such a diverse audience,” said inventor Adam Hall, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. “My background is in science and engineering, so being exposed to industry and intellectual property professionals is very valuable.”
Business professionals were on hand to discuss how to navigate the path from discovery to commercialization. These experienced entrepreneurs and industry representatives shared firsthand insights into the building blocks of successful industry-academic collaborations—including tips on protecting intellectual property, starting a new company, licensing products and forming lasting partnerships.
“A key part of our development has been fostered through collaborations spanning academic, private equity and government funding,” said Jessica Beaver, PhD, managing director of regulatory and quality affairs at Keranetics, a leading biomaterials company in purified keratin medical products that spun out of an invention at Wake Forest Baptist. “These relationships have enabled us to successfully transition from the academic setting to the marketplace.”
Engaging the Community
Health care innovation thrives on academia-investor-industry partnerships, but it’s also meant for a larger audience—the community and individuals these innovations will affect. They’re a vital part of the collaborative innovation equation.
Local community member Cheryl Smiley attended Open Thinking to learn more about the health care innovation scene in Winston-Salem. “I’m interested in the Innovation Quarter and like to be exposed to new things in our city,” she said.
Wake Forest Innovations believes that collaborative innovation includes sharing ideas with the community and inviting them to engage with our inventors as well as network with all the different entities who attend.
“I’m here to network and make connections,” said John Bazin, chief of external affairs for EBM Care, a healthcare technology company headquartered in New York City. “We’re innovators, and this is where innovation is happening.”
The evening wrapped up with the People’s Choice Award, where participants vote for their favorite technology. This award gives the community a voice in the innovation process by selecting the invention that resonates most with them. This feedback can be useful to the inventors.
This year’s award winner was Anthony Molina, PhD, assistant professor of associate professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest Baptist. Molina showcased his emerging technology, a Blood-based Diagnostic for Bioengeneric Capacity, which monitors mitochondrial function and healthy aging.
“Being recognized at Open Thinking is a validation that our research is valued by fellow scientists as well as business and community audiences,” said Molina. “At the end of the day, it lets us know we’re on the right track.”
Open Thinking brought a wide range of participants together under one roof. Scientists, clinicians, researchers, business and industry leaders and the community connected through shared ideas, expertise and discovery to celebrate life-changing inventions and the collaborative innovation that make them possible.