When a technology is too far along to receive funding from “research” sources (such as government funding agencies), yet not developed enough to attract investors or partnership/licensing arrangements with large companies, it’s said to be languishing in the limbo known as the “Valley of Death.” As a 2008 study by the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies states, “the private sector may not be ready for the handoff from publicly-financed research, which then appears to cut off the innovation process.” As a result, universities are becoming creative about filling those funding gaps.
One such initiative is the recently created Montreal Excellerator, a non-profit partnership between McGill University and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI MUHC). Excellerator will be dedicated to expediting the translation of high impact medical solutions into clinical diagnostics and experimental therapies, thereby enhance the market-readiness of groundbreaking discoveries and enhance the value of the underlying intellectual property. By providing regulatory expertise and managing contact with contract research organizations that can take lab discoveries through trials to the proof-of-concept stage, where they become more commercially attractive, Excellerator will assist innovators by assuming project management, proof of concept studies and business development. Excellerator is identifying “low hanging fruit” it can advance through the most difficult part of the path from bench to business to bedside (B2B2B).
Elsewhere, comparable initiatives and models continue to emerge such as the Centre for Drug Research & Development (CDRD) in British Columbia, the Harvard Technology Accelerator Fund, the UCSD von Liebig Center in San Diego, and the MIT Deshpande Center, Imperial Innovations and Hadasit Bio-Holdings Ltd.
Happily, policymakers are responding to these new steps universities are taking to commercialize discoveries. In Canada, federal and Quebec government funding agencies are increasingly prioritizing the need to bridge the valley through such initiatives as Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research, the CIHR Proof of Principle Program, the CIHR Rx&D Research Program, NSERC I2I and the Ministère du développement économique, de l’Innovation et de l’Exportation’s Programme de soutien à la valorisation et au transfert.