Stories of Medical Innovation

Four Reasons to Attend Open Thinking Events in 2017

Your research. It’s what makes you tick; it gets you out of bed in the morning. It’s what you love to talk about. It could be leukemia, endoscopy, biomedical engineering, you name it.

When you get the opportunity to talk about your area of expertise with other like-minded individuals, it makes your day. That’s why, starting next month, Wake Forest Innovations is presenting a new forum for you to do just that.

The Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization of Wake Forest Innovations presents Open Thinking, a series of scientific conversations between industry experts and researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to share perspectives on leading topics in medical innovation. In other words, it builds bridges with industry to stimulate translational thinking.

“We see Open Thinking as a complement to the Medical Center’s mission to improve health,” says Mark Furth, senior science liaison for the Center and organizer of Open Thinking 2017. “In order to reach a broad public, most research discoveries need to be commercialized. We want to support our investigators and provide them with the knowledge base to take that step.”

Starting in May, the Center will hold a series of Open Thinking events focused on leading topics in scientific discovery, beginning with precision medicine—in both cardiovascular research and cancer. Future topics will include redox biology, Alzheimer’s Disease and aging and drug discovery in academic environments.

“We want to explore topics that are important to our researchers and open dialogues with industry to spur creative thinking about how to achieve practical applications in those areas,” Furth explains.

To facilitate this process, Open Thinking will bring in speakers from the commercial sector with scientific and business expertise to speak on the industry landscape related to the event’s topic.

The first Open Thinking event, to be held on May 5, will explore precision cardiology and will consist of two sessions, one focusing on clinicians and the other on researchers. Industry speakers focused on genomic testing for cardiovascular disease risk will present at Cardiology Grand Rounds at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital in the morning.  A lunch session, held at the Bowman Gray Center for Medical Education in Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, will focus on research directions in precision cardiology.

Piqued your interest yet? Here are four potential takeaways from attending Open Thinking events:

1. Learn about commercial opportunities for your research area

Open Thinking is designed for faculty, staff or students who are interested in translating their research into practical products and technologies that reach patients.

Though many researchers pursue the kind of hypothesis-driven research that has traditionally been funded by the National Institutes for Health, that work often dovetails with practical application.

“The distance between outstanding research and practical application is often shorter than people believe,” says Furth. “Commercialization starts with great discovery.”

The reason for bringing in speakers from industry is to help our researchers discover new avenues to application.

“We want to engage our faculty as early as possible to get them thinking about what the possibilities are for commercializing their basic discoveries,” says Furth. “And when ideas arise that have commercial legs, we want to work together to accelerate and invest in them.” 

2. Learn about the areas where industry is looking for new technologies

What does the commercial world see as unmet medical needs? What kinds of technologies are companies looking to license and develop?

Open Thinking invites industry experts to share their perspective on the commercialization landscape in specific areas like precision medicine in cancer or vaccine development.

“We try to match the industry sectors represented with particular areas of strength in the Medical Center,” says Furth.

Attendees can learn what industry is working on in their own area of research and where companies project future opportunities.

“Hearing the perspective of industry scientists can spark researchers to develop technologies likely to be valued by companies and investors,” says Furth.

Open Thinking brings in industry experts both from larger pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies, as well as from smaller companies working at an earlier stage. This gives attendees an understanding of the range of industry needs and where their particular research might fit best.

“When developing a proprietary technology with a Wake Forest researcher or clinician, the Center can partner with companies at all kinds of levels—large or small—whatever makes sense for the invention,” says Furth.

3. Learn about the real-world challenges of moving ideas to the marketplace

The speakers at Open Thinking have real-world experience in moving a medical technology from concept in the lab to product in the marketplace—they’ve done it themselves, and they have stories to share on both the positives of the experience and the pitfalls along the way.

“If researchers are considering commercialization, learning from the experiences of people who have gone through the process can be invaluable,” says Furth.

Some speakers review their experiences step-by-step, helping potential inventors understand what they are getting into and what it’s like to face hurdles such as limited resources.

“Developing a technology at Wake Forest Baptist in partnership with the Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization parallels the journey of a biotechnology company,” says Furth. “Our industry speakers can share what it’s like to take a concept and move it through development stages towards regulatory approval.”

4. Learn about an industry perspective on your own research or technology

One of the unique aspects of Open Thinking is the opportunity that some attendees have to discuss their projects with the industry experts. In these meetings, researchers can get feedback on the technology and its development path.

“Inventors get the chance to ask an industry expert about the commercial value of their technology. Does it seem novel? Robust? Does it match industry criteria on where to invest? If so, what is the best way to accelerate its development?” says Furth.

Do you have an idea in development that fits one of the upcoming topics? Talk with your Center representative about scheduling a meeting with the industry representative.

Open Thinking is about creating opportunities, whether for tangible outcomes related to the topic or as fodder for innovative thinking. One of these opportunities is the chance to better understand how the Center can help you move a product from concept to development to commercialization. Through Open Thinking, the Center wants to encourage faculty and staff to see possibilities for their research they may not have considered.

“For years, our faculty have been writing a section called ‘Significance’ for every grant application they submit,” says Furth. “We want to help make those sections more than theoretical; we want to convert them into real-world products and technologies that improve lives.”

Register to attend the first Open Thinking Lunch & Learn on precision cardiology on May 5, and keep your eyes open for more Open Thinking events coming later this year.