Cold Spring Hires Former VC to Lead “Proactive” Tech Transfer Effort

Xconomy Boston — 

Few places in Long Island, NY, have the scientific cache of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory—the birthplace of OSI Pharmaceuticals, and the former workplace of DNA pioneer James Watson, among other Nobel Prize winners. But that doesn’t mean the 123-year-old research institution can’t use a little help commercializing its research.

CSHL is announcing today that it has created a new position, vice president of business development and technology transfer, and hired former venture capitalist and tech transfer veteran Teri Willey to fill it.

In that role, Willey will head CSHL’s tech transfer office and take charge of the commercialization of all the technology coming out of the institution. Willey will handle patents, licensing activities, partnerships, and industry collaborations with CSHL’s technology, and also help foster the creation of startups coming out of the institute’s research. She’s taking over for John Maroney, who spent two decades overseeing tech transfer at CSHL as its general counsel. (Maroney will stay on as general counsel, according to CSHL.)

CSHL is one of Long Island’s bellwether non-profit research institutions, particularly when it comes to life sciences. Located on the north shore of Long Island, it was originally established in 1890 by the Brooklyn Institute of Arts to train high school and college teachers in marine biology. Then, famed eugenicist Charles Davenport took it over and created a lab for genetics research on its grounds near the beginning of the 20th century. Since that time, names like Watson, Alfred Hershey, Barbara McClintock, Richard Roberts, and other pioneers in scientific research have worked out of the lab. It’s also given rise to more than 20 startup biotechs, most famously OSI Pharma, the company known for cancer drug erlotinib (Tarceva) and was eventually acquired by Astellas Pharma.

But despite that big-name history, Cold Spring clearly feels it can get more out of its research. Maroney and a very small team had essentially been handling everything from business development to “every other type of legal transaction” for a lab, according to Willey. Because of that, CSHL had less resources to proactively find partners—even though Willey says in the past five years, CSHL has signed 25 licensing agreements and nine industry collaborations. About 600 scientists and technicians work at its Long Island campus.

So a recruiting firm contacted Willey, who has experience both as a venture capitalist and a tech transfer executive, to put a plan together. Willey helped co-found Arch Development Partners, a seed venture fund spun out of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory. She’s worked in tech transfer positions at the University of Cambridge (U.K.), Northwestern University, and other institutions, and most recently was hired as the VP of technology and business development at Mount Sinai Medical Center in 2011, where she was asked to reorganize its tech transfer program and help get innovative ideas out into the real world.

While Mount Sinai was more of a restructuring effort for Willey, the plan for CSHL seems to be all about outreach. Willey expects to add at least one other member to her team, and put a program together in which associates will serve as business agents for faculty members to reach out to industry players and potential investors. She says she has the full support of CSHL leadership, meaning there won’t be any bureaucratic challenges in putting the initiative together. She’ll soon be meeting with the heads of CSHL’s various laboratories to determine which projects should be pursued as startups, or industry collaborations, or otherwise.

“We’re thinking about, who are the partners we want to work with? Why would they be the best partners for us? Do they share our core principles for how we’d like to see our science reach the public?” Willey says.

The hope, of course, is that this extroverted approach will lead to more partnerships and startups surrounding the technology from CSHL. Willey says the discussions in her few days on the job so far have been about potential collaborations around research at CSHL into cancer drugs and biofuels, but the challenge is making those deals a reality.

“We’re hoping that because we have more hands, we can be more proactive,” she says. “[CSHL] is seen as a place where very innovative, disruptive work goes on in life sciences—the question is, can we build on that?”