- Date: June 04, 2019
When bringing a new technology or scientific discovery to the Health or Biotech market, there is a multifaceted process involved that often stretches beyond the scope of the research team behind it. Developing a business plan, fulfilling the legal and regulatory requirements, learning where and who to go to for funding, having an in-depth understanding of the market… This is just a fraction of a would-be Health entrepreneur’s checklist. For this reason, getting advice from a technology transfer expert is a vital step in getting a project off the lab bench and into the clinic. We recently spoke to one such expert, Esther Riambau, who is the Life Sciences Director at UPF Ventures.
In the first part of our two-part interview, she tells us about her role at UPF Ventures, the work that they do with Life Science projects, and the current trends in the field of Health Innovation.
Could you share a little about your background? How did you get into the industry?
I have a mixed profile with a scientific and business background. I started my scientific career by studying Biology and Biochemistry at Universitat de Barcelona and later on, I got an MBA at Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
My professional experience started in a research group from Universitat de Barcelona as a Project Manager. In 2001, I had the chance to live first-hand the creation of one of the first biotech companies in Spain, Advancell, a spin-off that was born from that same research group. At that moment, I realized for the first time that Technology Transfer would be my profession.
5 years later I joined Fundació Bosch i Gimpera, the technology transfer office of Universitat de Barcelona, and from 2013 to 2018, I led the technology-based business creation area.
I left this position one year and a half ago in order to face a new adventure, working as the Life Sciences Director for UPF Ventures.
What are the major objectives of UPF Ventures?
UPF Ventures is an innovation management company created by Universitat Pompeu Fabra. We work closely with UPF and their transfer office, as well as with other public and private entities, including research centers, universities, hospitals, start-ups and large companies.
We are specialized in connecting companies with expert research groups and technologies from universities, research centers and hospitals. We also support entrepreneurs and start-ups in the definition and development of their business plan or part of it. For example, by organizing focus groups in order to perform direct market research, connecting entrepreneurs with local investors to raise funds or increasing their network, team and key providers.
Our goal is to turn technology into a viable business allowing the maximization of social impact and economic return from research.
What kind of project/scientific area do you tend do work with? What stage are they normally at?
We work with projects related to life sciences from different areas: pharmaceutical, medtech as well as industrial biology; which arise from different fields. For instance, in the case of medtech projects, these are composed of multi-disciplinary teams since medical doctors and engineers are required, entailing, therefore, the participation of researchers with different expertise.
We usually start working with projects in an early stage, when they are too immature to get the attention of the private sector. Most of them count on promising results which get IP protection. Then, together with the technology transfer office, we help them to get public and private funding in order to valorize those results. Once they get solid proof-of-concept data, it is the time for bigger companies, private investors and the institutional community to bet on the continuation of the project. If there is an unmet need and the research team proves technical feasibility, we will get more chances to transfer that technology to the market, and, therefore, to get a socioeconomic return on that research.
What areas in health innovation are having the biggest impact at the moment?
I firmly believe we are living a revolutionary moment within the Healthcare sector. The coming decade will be decisive in incorporating the disruptive innovations of the last 20 years into clinical practice and, therefore, bringing their impacts into our society.
Personalized medicine is one of the most revolutionary innovations within therapeutics and diagnostics. It has the potential to tailor therapy with the best response as it enables clinicians to characterize patients’ genetics and biochemical features in order to ensure earlier diagnostics and optimal treatments. Substantial progress has been made towards personalized medicine and we are already seeing new diagnostic tools (many of them early-diagnosis), new treatments and even new predictive tools which tend to focus the future of medicine on prevention rather than recovery.
Biomedical engineering is another hot spot where technologies, classically from other fields, are being applied to medicine with amazing results. Improvements in medical imaging will allow doctors to base their diagnostics on quantitative data and even in remote; 3D printing will make medical devices more accessible and at a lower cost; point-of-care diagnostics will imply a faster assistance to patients and we can already find robots supporting surgeons during surgeries.
We are seeing more and more innovations which will increasingly empower patients in different situations: in clinical decision-making, disease-monitoring, by reducing medical visits and even improving their quality of life.
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