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Rice Consortium Helped Spark Biotech Researchers’ Inner Entrepreneur

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and patient metrics that might need attention. Decisio executives have applied for FDA approval as a class 2 medical device and expect to receive word by the end of the year.

“Also there are cool things that HATRC helped advise on, like Amina Qutub and DiBS,” Schubert says, speaking of a Rice researcher who has developed visualization software for heat maps used to evaluate health care data, such as patient demographics or treatment options.

Despite these successes, the burden for Rice to solely take on responsibility for funding and maintaining HATRC was deemed unsustainable. While HATRC is technically open until June, Schubert has left Houston and returned to Accelerator.

The announcement of the medical center’s new accelerator, TMCx, as well as Johnson & Johnson’s planned opening of a new J-Labs at the facility, meant the time was right to pass on the baton, says George McLendon, Rice’s outgoing provost and a co-director of the TMC’s Innovation Institute.

“There is a sense now that there is an even better way to accomplish this multi-institute collaboration,” he says. “As neutral as Rice is, we’re still an institution that has own view and our own interests.”

Farach-Carson says that, although HATRC will have only existed for a few years, she believes the effort has helped change academics’ attitudes toward seeking commercial opportunities for their science. “Before, they would say, ‘You have to go to Boston or California to do that,’ ” she says. “I don’t hear that anymore.”

She says the experience building HATRC has given her a new understanding of the cultural differences between academics and executives. “I really realize the inventors come in different flavors and it’s important to identify them and not manage them all in a one-size-fits-all way,” she says. “If you don’t match them with an (executive) that understands their academic personality, they will view the business folks as sell-outs trying to make a profit out of my idea.”

Meanwhile, the entrepreneurs and scientists who remain in the HATRC suite of offices on the Rice campus had hoped to keep their startup ecosystem at the BRC intact—even as the formal organization goes away. Kevin Coker, Molecular Match’s CEO, says that being within walking distance of Welsh at MD Anderson, as well as advisors in the HATRC suite and in the medical center at large, has made a crucial difference in getting the startup off the ground. “Video conferences are no substitute,” he wrote last month to Rice University officials in a bid to retain the HATRC space. “We must be together in the same space.”

Earlier this week, however, the verdict came down from Rice. HATRC tenants will have to move out upon their leases’ expiration in June.

 

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