Networking, Collaboration and Vision: Mantras for Success for bench-to-market

by Shikhar Aggarwal

Shikhar Aggarwal, was one of the young leaders selected, and the only Marie Curie fellow at the Biocamp. He is currently in the final stages of his PhD studies at University of Turin, Italy under the aegis of FP7 ITN ‘NephroTools’ program. He is also the Chair and co-Founding member of the Marie Curie alumni association-northern Italy (MCAA-NI) chapter. He found the Biocamp very intensive, challenging and a new learning experience.

Every scientific researcher aims to do something ‘substantial’ and ‘sustainable’ for society in terms of either basic or applied science that can directly influence people’s life. However, limited resources and research tools, unstable funding scenarios, business knowledge and vision to implement basic into applied science (in terms of technology transfer) have hampered the growth of research industries. Novartis, one of the world’s largest bio-manufacturing and drug-research companies has made it their social responsibility to impart researchers with basic knowledge of the ‘business of drug development’ and collaborate with institutes through private-public partnerships, in order to bring research from the test-tube to the patient’s bed side.

Novartis Italia, in collaboration with IRCCS Istituto Clinico Humanitas, Milan, recently organised the second edition of an intensive and exclusive 3-days Biotechnology Leadership Camp (15-17 Dec) for early stage researchers below the age of 35 working in the field of medical research from Italian universities. After a rigorous multi-step selection based on project proposal, power point presentation, CV, leadership qualities and extra-curricular activities of the candidates, Novartis selected 34 young leaders including PhD students and Post-docs from all regions of Italy. Interestingly, 70% of the candidates were woman with an average age of 29 and 1566 publications in-total to their name.

The candidates were divided into groups of 6 people and given an assignment to make a business plan for a new diagnostic kit for Alzheimers disease. Each group was tutored by seasoned faculty from SDA Bocconi School of Management, the best management school in Italy, and had to present their business plan in front of a jury including ‘angel investors’, consultants and Novartis senior management.  During the three day workshop, that started everyday early morning until late evening, candidates were given inter-disciplinary seminars from Novartis senior management, professors from Humanitas Institute, investors from banks and ministers from Italian MIUR on government research policies, the business of biotech, intellectual property rights and networking. In the evenings, the groups worked together on their business plan. However, due to the limited number of hours available to work on the assignment after all day of lectures (in total less than 10 hours in 3 days), we divided our responsibilities to work on the business plan in terms of scientific knowledge, market valuations, competitive landscape, financial forecasting and marketing strategy. Thanks to the good Italian coffee that kept the participants awake till late nights.

The meeting presented case studies that involve successful stories of structured collaborations between universities and pharmaceutical companies in terms of licensing-in or licensing-out new technologies or drug molecules. It was stressed regularly that scientists should also envision the commercial part of their research , if they discover something new and not only be focused on publishing results in scientific journals. Mario Calderini, an adviser on research policies and innovation for the Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR) pointed out that this will not only help researchers to overcome the difficulties in finding funds with the help of private collaborations with Pharma companies but that even the government wants to promote greater support of industries to bring out more meaningful research into market for the betterment of society. Another influential speaker at the Biocamp, Dr. Manuela Cirilli, a researcher at CERN, showed how they work and disseminate information in collaborative projects with the help of public-private partnerships including many countries and thousands of researchers of all nationalities. She stressed that networking and successful collaboration in a visionary leadership was key to their success for the Higgs-Boson experiment that lead to the award of the Noble Prize in Physics in 2013.

In the end, the Biocamp, not only provided great business resources to scientific researchers but also pooled a network of self-motivated researchers from Italy, who are hungry to bring a change in their lives as well as the lives of patients, in turn boosting the country’s research growth and GDP.

So, what are you waiting for? Get ready for another challenging experience in your life at next year’s Biocamp!!! and the board members will never ask you passwords or other sensitive data. Also you will never receive strange links from them. Please always check the email sender and be careful what URLS you visit.