The Mass General Research Institute has launched a new translational research training course designed to foster collaborations between academia and industry and support a new generation of translationally-minded scientists.

What does it take to build a bridge?

Bridges are complex structures that require contributions from many fields of expertise—from architects and engineers to steel and concrete workers.

While the bridge-building process can be long and challenging, the benefits are immediately clear. Bridges create new connections between areas that were previously separated by distance, allowing for the faster and easier exchange of resources, people and ideas from one side to the other and back again.

It seems appropriate, then, that the leaders of a new translational research training program at the Mass General Research Institute would use bridge building as a central theme for their course.

The bridge they hope to create is symbolic one that connects scientists and clinicians from Massachusetts General Hospital to their colleagues in the biotech, pharmaceutical and venture capital industry, to translate promising research discoveries into new diagnostics and treatments for patients.

Whether you are building a physical bridge or a conceptual one, both require a commitment to working as a team, a clear understanding and focus on the final goal, the determination to press on when new challenges arise, and the strength to withstand the push and pull of outside forces.

This is one of the key messages that Gabriela Apiou, PhD, Director of Strategic Alliances for the Mass General Research Institute and Bob Tepper, MD, Partner, Third Rock Ventures, shared with 19 faculty clinicians and scientists in the inaugural class of the Bridging Academia and Industry Training Program, which launched this January.

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In a recent interview, Tepper, who trained and conducted research as a faculty member at Mass General before transitioning to the biotechnology and venture capital fields, and Apiou, who trained as a scientist and conducted research in industry before joining Mass General, shared their vision for the course and why they believe academia and industry working together is crucial to future medical advancements.

"Inspiring the trainees to enter the field of translational sciences, learning the academia-industry language and understanding what it really takes to go from an idea in the lab to a diagnostic or treatment are our overarching goals. This course is about establishing a new culture and field of investigation," Apiou says.

"The rapid evolution of the interconnection between medicine, science and business over the last 20 years and the impact of the upcoming 20 years on our society requires us to rethink training for future leaders. This is fundamental for biomedical research, patient care and health economics overall," Apiou notes.

"We have an incredible biomedical ecosystem here in Boston, it's probably unique in the world. It has some of the best hospitals in the world and some of the best medical research." Tepper says. "The biotechnology industry has been growing in this area for several decades and has been recently complemented by the arrival of large pharmaceutical companies."

"While these two worlds co-exist, they don't always interact," Tepper notes. "Whether you're at Mass General, or a biotech or pharmaceutical company, it's not clear that you have all the contacts you need to foster collaboration and innovation—both within your institution and across these organizations. So how do we make the best use of this ecosystem?"

"The need for multiple groups—basic scientists, physicians, business leaders, regulatory people—to work together to come up with these solutions has never been greater."

Details of the Course

The course, which is the first of its kind at Mass General, consists of two key parts. The first is an instructional program designed to teach participants the fundamentals of translation, research and development planning, business development and commercialization from both the academic and industry perspective.

"We are very proud about the amazing 50 faculty from academia and industry we were able to bring together to teach this course," Apiou and Tepper say.

Through lectures and case studies that illustrate both success stories and cautionary tales, the course will provide trainees with a better understanding of the scope of resources needed to bring a discovery from the lab to the market.

"For example, if we are talking about a project that will take $60-$100 million and the investigator believes it is possible to do this with $3 million, we want to say; 'No, that’s not the right way to think about this, because that experiment has been done hundreds of times, and we know the answer to that,'" Tepper says.

"That's what we want to engender in this course, for people to get a realistic sense of what it takes to develop their ideas to their fullest—what type of community they would need."

The second part of the course is a project competition, where trainees will identify and pitch important problems, form teams and work with faculty members to create solution-driven project proposals. The teams will compete for a one-year $150,000 award they can use to perform relevant research and develop a go-to-market plan.

Making Connections

By convening translationally-minded leaders from academia and industry together as co-instructors for the course, Apiou and Tepper hope to provide trainees with the opportunity to build connections across the entire translational science ecosystem.

"Between the faculty at Mass General and the industry faculty we assembled, you have world-class experts across the whole spectrum of taking important early stage ideas and bringing them to commercialization," Tepper says.

"Technology—the science, the medicine, the tools, and the capabilities — are all critical. Capital resources are critical. But the right people and the right places are critical, too.

"You have to go outside of the four walls at Mass General to solve a lot of complex problems."