Patrick Fortune, PhD, MBA, Vice President for Market Sectors at Partners HealthCare Innovation, draws on his vast background in research and business development to identify research breakthroughs that have the potential for commercial use, and to connect our researchers with members of industry.

He has been an invaluable resource to the Mass General Research Institute Strategic Alliances team, directed by Gabriela Apiou, PhD, in helping strategize and build new academic/industry collaboration pathways.

Pat has a storied career in the life sciences, leading giant multinational companies such as Baxter, Bristol Meyers Squibb and Monsanto, launching and selling an IT startup company, investing in groundbreaking new companies as a venture capitalist, and now, optimizing innovation programs in the largest US academic medical center.

In this interview, Pat shares with us his insights and advice to help our investigators position their research and innovations to have the best chance for commercial success. After all, without commercialization our science will never help patients.

What is your role within Partners HealthCare Innovation and how is your office set up to help our inventors succeed?

We set up the office by therapeutic areas or what we call market sectors. I am responsible for our market sector leaders that work in tandem with our licensing group.

Traditionally, technology transfer is one innovation process. This is the role of identifying and protecting the intellectual property (IP) that emerges from our research labs and seeking its commercialization, i.e. out-licensing. You might think of it as a technology push.

In parallel, another innovation process is figuring out how to make our intellectual property optimally attractive from both the inventor’s and the market’s perspective.

This is the role of understanding how it will fit in the market and how to position it throughout the process to optimize its value.

Even at the simple stage of defining patent claims, we need to understand whether the IP has value in addressing an unmet need in the marketplace, and what key features of the IP are going to enable those needs. That is a market sector view or a market pull.

Both the technology push and market pull processes are needed to optimize the value of our technologies to the hospitals.  

What makes a technology attractive to investors and industry?

Here are four important questions that investors and industry members care about that we try to answer for our clients:

  • Does it address an unmet clinical need?
  • Is the need big and growing?
  • How do you access the channel that gets it in a market?
  • And lastly, does it represent any kind of competitive advantage?

These four questions are fundamental to the success of an innovation in the market.

I can provide another cut at this question using an anecdote. While I was working as a venture capitalist, I was on a panel and someone asked me what to look for in companies to fund.

I responded, “One of the most helpful things I can tell you is the primary reason I do NOT invest in a deal: the company cannot explain the path to clinical proof-of-concept.”

I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you want to market a drug as an obesity “cure.” Obesity drugs have an extremely high regulatory hurdle and the failure rate for an obesity drug is very close to 100 percent.

Obesity is a multi-variant, polygenic disorder and therefore is very hard to cure. It also is a chronic disease and therefore what does it mean to have a cure?

Does it mean the therapy can help someone lose 10 pounds and keep it off for 5 years? Or am I looking for clinical outcomes that say I can reduce the incidence of major cardiovascular events or diabetes? These are very expensive and risky endpoints, and the likelihood anyone is going to invest in this is extremely low.

Now if you reposition the therapy as a way for moderately healthy people to lose 10 pounds in a safe environment and in combination with exercise over two years, then you have converted a larger problem into a much smaller problem, and now it is both clinically and financially tractable. That is the kind of work with inventors that we often do.

How does Partners Innovation evaluate a technology?

First we want to recognize attributes of the technology that have commercial value. We need the freedom to operate and the ability to block other people who are trying to do the same thing.

In other words, can we get solid intellectual property (IP), usually in the form of a patent? If so, is it a method patent, which is not highly valuable, or a composition patent, which is considerably more valuable?

Next we ask: what is the need for the innovation? There is recognition in healthcare that innovations are risky, particularly medical devices or drugs.

When a compound goes from preclinical to a phase 1 clinical trial, it has a 95 percent chance of never getting to the market. The farther along in development that it fails, the more money it loses.

Since investors understand this risk, it is important to focus on ensuring it is offset by the potential return: what is the unmet need being addressed and can we cost effectively demonstrate that the therapeutic or device meets the need in a reasonable population.

These are among the most important attributes that we evaluate and researchers should think about.

When should a researcher contact Partners HealthCare Innovation?

The best time to contact us is when you’re starting to think you have something interesting, rather than waiting until you’re sure that you do. We like researchers to ask us, “Should I start thinking about a commercialization pathway for this, and if so, how?

What advice can you give our investigators on commercializing their research at Mass General?

One thing our researchers should realize is that Partners HealthCare Innovation is not the only resource for innovation at Mass General. There are clinicians here who are experts in specific disease-areas like cardiovascular medicine or immuno-oncology.

Mass General clinicians can give you chapter and verse about the state of the art for a specialty. Collectively, we can come up with a model for how your research or innovation ought to progress.

There is often little need to go outside of our hospital community to learn the significance of your invention, if it has potential, or if it is likely to fail. It is amazing how much Mass General researchers and clinicians know off the top of their head.

About the Strategic Alliances Initiative

The Strategic Alliances Initiative is a cornerstone of the Mass General Research Institute's mission to help scientists engage in more productive and long-lasting collaborations with industry at all stages of their work: from fundamental research to proof of concept, development, and transfer to market and patient care.

To discuss the potential applications of your research within the Strategic Alliances research programs, please email Gabriela Apiou, PhD, Director, Strategic Alliances.

About Partners Healthcare Innovation:

Partners HealthCare Innovation works directly with researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, McLean Hospital and Spaulding Hospital to commercialize their research and innovations. It is our mission to enable commercialization through the best route for a given technology, and ensure that technologies can benefit patients.

To discuss the commercial potential and applications of your research, please contact Partners HealthCare Innovation at 857-307-2400 or through their website at