Kids like things that light up, like the twinkling sneakers. But the illuminated catheter that Dr. Farhad Imam told investors about yesterday is designed for pediatricians, not kids. Imam, a fellow in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital, was one of the presenters at Monday’s “Early-Stage Life Sciences Technology Conference” at Harvard Medical School.
Sponsored by the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center, the event, in organizers’ words, offers
an opportunity for research institutions and recently formed Massachusetts companies to present their life sciences technologies to an audience of angel investors, venture capitalists and corporate investors.
So, doctors like Imam – who usually present to fellow researchers, not VCs – had ten minutes to pitch their inventions. Among their offerings: a potential artificial retina, a new system to shrink tonsils and a device to accurately deliver drugs to the brain. The scientists came from a range of area hospitals and schools, including Dana Farber Cancer Center, Boston College, MIT and McLean Hospital.
Imam said that, in most cases, doctors fail to properly place PICCs- peripherally inserted catheters – on the first try. The illuminated catheter produced by his Brookline-based Lumos Catheter Systems uses ” visible light channeled through the patients body,” he told the audience of about 150. “I think we can significantly improve on the 85 percent failure rate.”
He noted that doctors place 1.5 million PICCs each year, with 15 percent of those in children. With improved technology and lower costs, the market for these catheters is $130 million and growing, he told the group.
Although university tech transfer efforts like this one have been around for a while, the Harvard hospitals have been slow to embrace the concept. From this event, it seems that is changing.
But, the debate over the growing overlap between academia and industry remains unresolved. All major research universities have tech transfer offices that encourage scientists to patent and promote their findings. Medical breakthroughs make it to market and universities collect fees to fund more research.
Still, some see the effort as threat to academic integrity. Researchers, who think they can make a profit off of their findings face clear conflicts of interest, critics say.
For more on that, see the Integrity in Science project at the Center for Science in the Public interest or this new study out of the Harvard:
The relatively high proportion of IRBs without a requirement that voting members disclose industry relationships is inconsistent with current guidance, and likely results in lapses in awareness of when members with conflicts vote on protocols. There was no clear consensus on where oversight responsibility for member-industry relationships should lie.
For some of my reporting on the topic, see my story on Nature Network Boston.
Universities have long engaged in technology transfer: patenting discoveries and licensing them to companies with the capacity to develop, test, manufacture, and market new products.
But Harvard aims to take technology transfer a step further. Rather than letting outside companies do early-stage product development with its research, Harvard wants to do product development itself.