Texas Medical Center Makes Pitch to Boost Houston Biotech Startups

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transfer office will say that there really isn’t a standard deal but you could make some parameters to make the process weeks long rather than months long,” says Atul Varadhachary, managing partner at Fannin Innovation Studios in Houston. “The TMC is uniquely positioned to play this role.”

Varadhachary says a number of institutions do this, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which began to offer an “express exclusive license agreement” in 2009. In remarks to a Congressional subcommittee in 2012, Catherine Innes, who headed UNC’s Office of Technology Development at the time, said of the 19 companies the university commercialized since it implemented the streamlined process, only three opted to negotiate their own contracts.

Speaking at a BioHouston breakfast last month, Doris Taylor, director of the new Center for Cell and Organ Biotechnology, a $3 million collaboration between the Texas Heart Institute and Texas A&M University, said such a document could help the TMC take full advantage of its enormous patient numbers for clinical trials. “People outside of the TMC don’t think of the enormity of the TMC as a whole,” she says. “That’s got to change.”

Easing the pathway for commercialization can up the odds for a greater number of successful biotech launches. And that would help the ecosystem in another way by creating a deeper bench of seasoned life sciences executives. “I may love the technology but I invest in management,” Schubert says. “Good management can fix a bad technology; bad management can destroy a good technology.”

Decisio Health’s Hancock points to Houston’s energy sector, which he says is a robust mix of large established companies as well as more entrepreneurial ventures, as how he’d like to see the city’s life sciences community develop. “You can take a gamble on a early-stage company and, if things don’t work out, you have 20 companies where you can go and get a job,” he says of potential energy entrepreneurs.

Those options, he says, encourage risk-taking. They also would help to groom the next generation of life sciences CEOs.

He and others say a TMC accelerator would have great impact following a model employed by Surge Accelerator, the energy IT startup program founded by Kirk Coburn three years ago. Surge is now accepting applications for its fourth class. On average, each of its startups has raised just more than a $1 million in funding.

“Surge essentially says, ‘Look, we’re going to screen a handful of companies that are developing next generation technologies that we think are going to be interesting to you and you get a first look,’ ” Hancock says. “That really speeds up the ability (for those startups) to enter the market.”

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