Tag Archives: science innovation

science innovation

Bridging innovation’s valley of death

The ‘valley of death’ is the place where good ideas go to die in the world of science innovation. The term hints at the often insurmountable financial, logistical and regulatory chasm required to bring a potential new product or idea to market. Unfortunately, not many negotiate it successfully.

In the world of cancer medicine, there are multiple valleys of death, says to Dr Warwick Tong, CEO of the Cancer Therapeutics CRC (Ctx-CRC).

The original valley of death in science innovation encapsulated the idea that “you can have great basic science. But to have something in your hands to translate and take forward, that was a difficult place to get money,” Tong says.

In the biomedical arena, the move from basic science to translatable concept is now considered only one of three valleys of death. The second is having enough money to take a new therapy to clinical trials, which can run into millions; while the third is having enough money to file and maintain patents — also expensive. However, Tong believes the Cooperative Research Centre model addresses at least one of those challenges.

Translate and Take Forward

The Cancer Therapeutics CRC operates like a semi-virtual biotech company. Though its researchers are based at universities and institutions around the country, they work solely for the CRC —collaborating and communicating by means of an e-research platform, which enables real-time sharing of data. The platform also helps to ensure everything is documented and there’s no loss of data— both important factors in patent applications.

Tong also argues that CRC ownership of patents is particularly important in the commercialisation process, at least when it comes to science innovation. “Our model means it doesn’t matter where the inventors of our patents sit, the patent is assigned to us in the CRC, so we own it,” he says. “One of the things the pharmaceutical industry often struggles with is having to reach back into academic institutions for intellectual property, so they have to be sure we have the right contracts in place for what we own.”

Commercial Partner Pitfalls

While central control of intellectual property by the Commonwealth benefits commercialisation in the science innovation space — and was part of the base agreement in earlier CRCs — it has not been an ideal setup for all CRCs with commercial partners.

A product to come out of the recent Invasive Animals CRC was a new bait for controlling feral pigs, which has just begun field trials in the USA. Feral pigs are a growing scourge not only there, but also across Europe and Australia. The bait started life as ‘PIGOUT’, a 1080-toxin-laced product, before evolving into ‘HOG-GONE’, a highly specific bait for pigs containing a common food preservative — sodium nitrite. This chemical kills them quickly and humanely, but targets pigs specifically and poses almost no chance of collateral damage to other species.

At the time the Invasive Animals CRC was set up, the standard model for CRCs dictated intellectual property be retained by the CRC, regardless of who contributed to that IP.

Professor Linton Staples, managing director of Animal Control Technologies — one of the commercial partners in the Invasive Animal CRC — says that model was not ideal for participating companies because it didn’t adequately recognise partner inputs. To overcome an ‘uncommercial’ approach, his company ensured that the projects for which his company made a substantial cash or in-kind contribution were exclusively licensed back to the company to then commercialise.  

“It had a capital value implication for us,” says Staples, who is also an adjunct professor of animal science at The University of Queensland.

Regulatory Rigor Mortis

Regulatory requirements have been another challenge to making this space commercialised. Registering a new animal toxin and products for use in animal control is an onerous task.

“The process to do the trials to the very high standards of the US Department of Agriculture has meant that everything has to be documented to the last decimal dot,” Staples says. “The data on product efficacy and safety has to be bulletproof for regulatory review.”

The path to commercialisation of HOG-GONE has been far from smooth — at one point the baits were bursting apart, as the toxin reacted with their ingredients. Staples says his company has had to foot a significant amount of the development bill.

“This particular project is now running into millions of dollars, just because of all these technical difficulties we had to solve.” But with support from an AusIndustry Accelerated Commercialisation grant, Staples is hopeful they will soon have their new product on the market.

Finding your Market

One of the biggest traps for aspiring science innovation is finding their niche. That’s an issue that the Data to Decisions CRC isn’t leaving up to chance: they’re going directly to the source, and working with potential clients — namely agencies in the areas of national security and law enforcement — to develop products tailored to their needs.

“Our approach is to build software prototypes that we roll out for the end users to trial,” says the CRC’s commercialisation manager Duane Rivett. “We then use trial feedback to determine which features are put on the product roadmap.” The CRC’s in-house development teams include experienced commercial software architects, software engineers and data scientists, who work closely with the end users on every aspect of a product’s development.

The Data to Decisions CRC has launched two spin-off companies, both wholly owned subsidiaries of the CRC, with boards featuring members of the CRC’s own directors.

“We’re currently looking at expanding the governance of our start-ups to include external advisors and directors, to bring in different viewpoints,” Rivett says.

While the model for CRCs has changed considerably since the program began back in 1991, Rivett believes this approach greatly helps to bridge the valley of death problem in science innovation.

“In our experience, we can build commercial-grade software in-house and leverage our research from our university streams to deliver cutting-edge solutions,” he says.

-Bianca Nogrady

Australia's innovation sector

Rethinking Australia’s innovation sector

Tony Peacock takes a closer look at Australia’s innovation sector compared to the rest of the world. 

Innovation and Science Australia, the new body created in last December’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, has not sat idle during the election period. The Office of Innovation and Science Australia wound up a series of strategic workshops in Canberra yesterday, developing a 15-year Strategic Plan for Australia’s innovation sector. The plan will develop over the next year and will be a vitally important guiding document in setting direction for Australia’s innovation sector to 2030.

As is the case with many workshops, the facilitator asked each participant to make an opening observation, and mine surprised the person next to me. I was surprised at her surprise. It was basically that even the depiction in graphics of innovation as a linear process that moves from knowledge creation to knowledge transfer through to knowledge application can be fraught. It can over emphasise the expectations on universities in our innovation system. Our system is relatively highly reliant on universities already and we have to be very careful not to expect them keep doing more and more. The primary role of universities is to teach and their biggest impact in the innovation system is to develop talent. All universities also conduct research, but in Australia, we rely on university research much more heavily than most countries.

To illustrate, I’ve pulled out the OECD figures on who performed R&D in four countries in 2013 (the latest year with information for Australia, the USA, Germany and Israel). I chose these particular countries because we often hear comparisons between their systems and ours. Relative to other countries, Australia is roughly twice as reliant on universities to perform our total national research effort. Business in Australia performs relatively less research than business in the other countries but it is important when framing strategic directions to remember that in Australia, businesses still do double the research of our universities. Business is absolutely not sitting at the end of a knowledge generation process waiting to be fed.

This is not at all a criticism of universities. Australian universities are an unmitigated success. They do a brilliant job of teaching Australian and international students at both undergraduate and graduate levels. They do brilliant research. There is no doubt they can do better at engaging with industry, but most have lifted very significantly in that space already. How much more can we genuinely expect? Many universities are expressing concerns that they are cross-subsidising research with teaching dollars already (a fraught argument itself because students are attracted to high reputation universities, who largely drive reputation through their research profile). But they are probably leveraged about as far as possible.

Surely the key strategic issue in Australia’s innovation sector is to drive more business innovation? Relative to the rest of the world, our businesses do less research, but they are still the largest part of the innovation system as a whole. We need to think of business as the main player it is in performing R&D and how we can encourage yet more business research to enhance national prosperity. The people at the Office of Innovation and Science Australia are on to it and they acknowledge that there is “no simple way to fully describe its (Australia’s innovation sector) components or dynamics”. Perhaps that’s because in many ways it is not a “system” at all, which makes the task of strategic planning that much more difficult. It is certainly a task worth supporting.

This article was first published by the Cooperative Research Centre Association on 13 July 2016. Read the original article here.