Stories of Medical Innovation

Meet Jason Kralic: Inspiring and Accelerating Innovation

Jason Kralic, PhD, the new assistant vice president of technology innovation at Wake Forest Innovations, wants to meet you. He’s a self-declared people person who is passionate about bringing together inventors, their ideas and resources—guiding them along the journey to commercialization.

A neuroscientist by training, Kralic is an experienced senior business development leader versed in research and development, licensing, strategic partnering and company creation. He was most recently the vice president of business development at Opexa Therapeutics and before then GlaxoSmithKline’s global head of business development for neurosciences research and development.

At the Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization, Jason leads our efforts to engage with our investigators, clinicians, faculty and staff and with industry to support the ideation and development or translation of ideas and discoveries to the point where they can be commercialized with industry through the work of the licensing team at Wake Forest Innovations. He shares his goals—and enthusiasm—for this new role:

Describe how you’ll advance innovation in your new role.

My job is to work with our world-class scientists, researchers and clinicians to accelerate the development of their scientific discoveries and inventions. In order to accomplish that, I’m leading a talented team of scientists, drug developers, engineers and entrepreneurs here at Wake Forest Innovations. Together, we want to work directly with faculty and staff here at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and to invest in developing their ideas into valuable proprietary technologies that can be licensed to industry.

While my role is internally focused within Wake Forest Baptist, being successful also requires external business development activities with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Actively talking to industry helps us best understand their unmet needs, market value of potential technologies and gauge interest so that the most promising technologies are appropriately resourced, developed and positioned for commercialization.

How will you engage faculty and staff in these efforts?

I think we’ll be doing a lot of different types of outreach, but most importantly I believe in a “walking the halls” approach—meeting faculty and staff who are interested in exploring broader applications of their technology and matching this with our team’s experience and market needs. We’ll meet with faculty and staff through departmental and one-on-one meetings, and we’ll outline the process of innovation and how we can support technology development. The more aware faculty are, the more success we’ll have as an institution in improving health beyond the patient base served by Wake Forest Baptist.

What happens when you meet a faculty or staff member who has an innovative idea?

I think most importantly, the first thing we want to do is let them know they’re not alone. We’re here to help complement their knowledge and ingenuity with our expertise.

The next thing our team does is to evaluate the commercial opportunity of a proposed technology using a series of simple, yet crucial questions:

So what? As in, why is your idea unique? What unmet medical need does your idea address? What will make it stand out in today’s crowded marketplace?

Who cares? What is the market that this technology will service? What do you know about that market that can help us successfully develop and ultimately license your technology?

And finally, Why you? What makes you the right person to help develop and bring this technology to market? What expertise do you bring to the table and how will that be appealing to potential industry partners?

These questions may seem elementary, but often the answers are difficult to come by. Answering them can help unlock a lot of vital information.

There’s been some buzz about this Catalyst Fund. What is it and how does it relate to your position?

The Catalyst Fund is a $15 million technology development program created by Wake Forest Baptist to support the creation of licensable or venture-ready products at the institution. It’s an investment structure, so not a grant or a loan—it all goes back to commercial viability. The driving philosophy behind the Catalyst Fund is that well-managed investment funds propelling the right technologies increase their overall value. This fund is a great example of Wake Forest Baptist facilitating an innovative environment.

Part of my job is to help identify projects that would be a good fit for the Catalyst Fund and equip the inventors and the case managers—the experts on my team—to propose projects and manage them after funds have been awarded. But we also have other funding mechanisms, like the Commercialization Pathway Award, that can help advance ideas.

The best way for you to find out more about the Catalyst Fund or other funding mechanisms is to contact us directly.

How has your pharmaceutical background prepared you for this role?

For the past 10 years, I’ve been focused on evaluating medical technologies, primarily therapeutics, including quality of data packages, development plans and risk mitigation and investment strategies. I love doing this, tapping into the ideas and expertise of others and seeing how I can help advance their technologies. This breadth of experience allows me to look at different avenues to get our technologies to market, since there’s not always one path or mechanism.

When looking at new opportunities, I draw on my experience working in biotech and pharma both on the in-licensing and out-licensing side. In 2014, while at GlaxoSmithKline, I spearheaded the divestment of a Phase III-ready Alzheimer’s disease drug that was no longer a strategic fit for the company but had compelling safety and efficacy data. I worked with an experienced team of investors and drug developers who created a single asset company, Axovant, that resulted in a $2.8 billion IPO in 2015 that supported initiation of two Phase III studies in Alzheimer’s disease patients. This drug is no longer sitting on a shelf but now has the opportunity to be developed further and become a viable treatment for Alzheimer’s disease patients and caregivers. I was proud of this effort—I believed in the asset and had a good understanding of the organizational and external environment. I’d like to do it again here.

What would you like our inventors to know?

You don’t necessarily need to have an idea that is ready for commercialization. We have a fantastic process, and we can work with you from ideation all the way to commercialization, whether that be a license to an established company or to help with starting a company. We’re here to stimulate innovation where there is expertise and facilitate the development of your ideas into technologies that can be applied in the broader marketplace.

And, I’d like to meet you and hear about your ideas, so please reach out to me.

What are your specific areas of scientific interest?

Personally, I’m interested in the broad role of the microbiome and mitochondria across many diseases, age-related diseases and the interface of biology and electronics to detect and treat disease. That said, I’m excited to learn about all of our areas of expertise, including precision oncology, cardiovascular disease and heart failure, diabetes, medical device development, digital and population health. I want to drill down even further to see how we can match these capabilities and other areas of expertise with the market’s appetite.

Want to meet Jason or learn more about the Center for Technology Innovation & Commercialization? Contact the Center at commercialization@wakehealth.edu or call +1.336.716.3729.