Mastering the business side of translational research

Posted July 7, 2010

Two students from the Harvard Catalyst Scholars in Clinical Science Program (SCSP) have leveraged their educational experiences as part of the program into victory in the 2010 MIT Entrepreneurship (MIT100K) Competition. The students – Nazem Atassi, MD, an HMS instructor in neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital; and Karine Scheuermaier, MD, an HMS research fellow in medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the HMS Division of Sleep Medicine – were part of the team that won the competition’s Life Science Track prize and the Audience Choice award for best business plan idea.

The MIT100K Competition is a year-long educational experience designed to encourage students and researchers in the MIT community to act on their talent, ideas, and energy to produce tomorrow’s leading firms. Atassi and Scheuermaier’s team (which included Michael Chou, PhD, a co-investigator on a Harvard Catalyst Pilot Grant and a research fellow in the HMS Department of Genetics, as well as students from Harvard Business School) developed their winning business plan and submitted it to the competition as a follow-up to one of the SCSP’s required courses, Inventing Breakthroughs and Commercializing Science (taught by HBS professor Vicki Sato, PhD).

The team’s plan garnered a total of $30,000 in seed money for Aukera Therapeutics, a start-up company focused on developing novel methods for treating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”

Sato’s course at HBS is a key element of the SCSP’s comprehensive and intensive didactic curriculum, which complements the two-year program’s longitudinal clinical research seminar series and mentored research component.

Click here to learn the five lessons that one expert on bringing innovations to market learned as an advisor to the Commercializing Science course.

Atassi, who sees ALS patients and works on ALS clinical trials at MGH, noted that, “At the beginning of Dr. Sato’s course we were given a choice of projects to work on, and this one immediately spoke to me. We had a great team and great mentors, and while it was a challenge initially to learn to speak each other’s language, that of science or medicine or business, the whole experience was immensely valuable and eye-opening.”

“We require our Scholars to take this course to help them see the connections between business community and the clinical and translational research enterprise, to learn by the case method, and to understand how to manage and work in teams” said Lauren Dewey Platt, PhD, program manager for the SCSP. “Nazem and Karine’s achievement speaks to the value of this portion of the Scholars curriculum, and of immersing our students in a different way of thinking about how to advance medical science and clinical care.”

Atassi said, “I’m preparing for my first investigator-initiated trial, and am working with a manufacturing pharmacy and two pharmaceutical companies to get it started. I’m using everything I learned in the program – the epidemiology, the biostatistics, the genetics, and the business knowledge about intellectual property, budgets, contracts, and medical innovations – on a daily basis.

“I feel like my experiences in the clinic, the Neurology Clinical Trials Unit, and the Scholars program have all been complementary and form a complete circle,” he continued, “from seeing how frustrated patients are with the disease and the great unmet medical need, doing research to understand the disease better, and gaining a deeper understanding through the program of how to translate these experiences back to the clinic through drug development in ways that then impact the care patients receive.”

The SCSP is a two-year postgraduate training program available through Harvard Catalyst that helps address the critical need for formal training in clinical research, which is vital to the advancement of scientific knowledge and the development of improved treatments for human disease. Trainees who successfully complete the program are awarded a Master of Medical Sciences degree from Harvard Medical School. To learn more, visit the program’s web page or contact Lauren Dewey Platt (E-mail, 617-432-1387).

The HBS Commercializing Science course is open to students from across Harvard; participation in the SCSP is neither a requirement nor a prerequisite. For more information, visit the HBS website or contact Robin Smith (E-mail).