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#BIO2017: A Peek at Partnering | SPARK

May 10, 2017
Breaking Buzz is BIO’s newest blog series that reaches across the globe to bring you an insider’s preview into the hottest international and partnering trends coming to San Diego for the BIO International Convention.

Perfecting Translation

Stanford’s translational research program, SPARK, is only 11 years old yet already has funded and supported 148 past and current projects, helped launch 24 start-ups and has had over 30 patents licensed. Spark lays claim to a 62% success rate; measured when a project enters into human clinical trials, or is licensed to a start-up or existing company.

With those kind of stats it’s no wonder Mahima Agochiya, Business Development and Program Manager for SPARK was besieged with meeting requests at last year’s BIO International Convention within BIO’s One-on-One Partnering™ system.

SPARK’s remarkable program – a partnership between Stanford and volunteers from the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and healthcare investment industries – offers support to an average of 12-15 new projects each year.

[caption id="attachment_25314" align="alignright" width="267"] Mahima Agochiya PhD, MBA
Business Development and Program Manager
SPARK Translational Research Program at Stanford University School of Medicine[/caption]

Breaking Buzz sat down with Mahima to chat about the 69 meetings she and her colleagues attended in three days during the BIO International Convention in San Francisco, and asked about her strategy for partnering success.

We know SPARK is a Translational Medicine Program based out of Stanford School of Medicine that seeks partnerships with industry to help translate its projects, and is entering into its second year attending BIO. What kind of partner are you looking for this year?

SPARK is agnostic to indication so we are not limited to specific areas of therapeutics. We generally look for companies that are interested in early stage start-up funding or licensing; or both. The assets/ projects that we are looking to partner with this year are novel, address an unmet clinical need, and are at a stage where they ready for the next step.

There are thousands of companies in the BIO’s One-on-One ™ system representing tens of thousands of assets. How did you narrow it down to 69 meetings?

The first thing I do is add filters. We are mostly interested in companies that license at early-stage since our projects are preclinical at the most, so my go-to filters are “licensing” and “early-stage” for example. I then send out a lot of meeting requests. Perhaps it was because last year was only the first year that SPARK attended BIO, and my first year too, but I was very surprised by the number of invitations we got from other companies. It helps a lot to belong to a university that has a great reputation scientifically and I think people were curious about us, given our success rate.

Can you tell us about that success rate?

SPARK has a 62% success rate on all projects we take in. So far we’ve spun out 24 start-ups; eight licenses to biopharma; four tech transfers without license, and 31 clinical trials – 10 without license. To date we have provided education, mentorship and funding to 148 projects and hundreds of students.

Last year SPARK had 35 projects (assets) that you presented during partnering meetings at the Convention. Did any of those materialize into a licensing opportunity?

Yes! Last year resulted in at least one successful partnership that I will be able to talk about at the Convention this June, and we have ongoing negotiations with other companies we met, most of whom we’ll meet with again in San Diego. BIO provides a great opportunity to get to know new companies and share experiences with them. I think it might be hard to walk away with nothing.

What’s your advice to people new to the Partnering system?

Don’t have a script ready. Instead, open with a clear and concise statement saying exactly what you’re looking for. A half-hour isn’t long enough to delve into details, but rather to quickly ascertain if there is a viable partnering opportunity; so keep the conversation direct at opening, then very flexible. Also, provide all of your materials on a USB. SPARK’s assets are detailed, each on a single page, in one file given on a single USB drive.

Besides partnering meetings, what else is on your Convention calendar?

On Monday from 11:30 – 4:30, SPARK will team up with partners from Massachusetts, Quebec, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Oslo, UK Golden Triangle, Catalonia, and the Paris Region to present cutting edge innovations in oncology at the 6th International Cancer Cluster Showcase. Each cluster will present their oncology pipelines in compact 20-minute presentations, so it’s the perfect opportunity to learn about the latest innovations and a great precursor for partnering meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Why did you get an MBA eight years after getting a PhD in cancer research?

The two degrees are actually a perfect combination. After finishing my PhD I did about eight years of basic science which was very rewarding, but also a little heartbreaking because I never saw the work translated. That’s what made me do the MBA – now I get to see all the cool science and get to see them translate – at Stanford University no less. How perfect is that?