Sunday, November 13, 2011

Open Science and Entrepreneurship

Let me tell you a true story of…luck. Very recently a group of MBA students at the University of Louisville has been winning entrepreneurial competitions, including the 2011 Venture Labs Investment Competition (formerly and still colloquially known as Moot Corp.) and the 2011 Rice University Business Plan Super Bowl. This group, under the name of TNG Pharmaceuticals, has been the benefactor of discovering some researchers at Auburn University with a “vaccine” that inactivates the blood-thinning factors in the horn fly’s saliva; the horn fly has a $1 billion impact on the cattle industry. TNG Pharmaceuticals is marketing the vaccine as FlyVax and is setting up to make lots of money as long as the USDA gives it the green light.

How this group found these researchers is the more interesting point. The members began a web-based search through the Offices of Technology Transfer (OTTs) of various universities. These OTTs have several goals/functions. Most important developments in medical science begin in labs, but these developments have limited scope beyond meeting a narrow research goal. Developing these advances into impactful measures requires other steps including more R&D, testing, approval by appropriate regulatory bodies, manufacturing, and distribution. More or less OTTs function to carry out technology transfer mandates by retaining title to inventions and licensing these inventions to private entities to ensure use, commercialization, and public availability.

The word “luck” I used earlier is not my own, it’s one of the collaborator’s at TNG Pharmaceuticals. It was luck that the research they found was just sitting on the shelf for more than five years. But that begs the question about what other research is out there sitting on the shelf that is potentially highly lucrative and marketable? I doubt the cure to cancer is waiting, but valuable research can lay dormant for years until others bring it back to life or repurpose it. This is where Open Science can prove valuable. OTTs have a necessary function that Open Science is not intrinsically designed to cover, but Open Science can fill the gaps and offer good, inactive research a chance to be rekindled, reexamined, re-purposed. Who knows, maybe the future online forums constituting the fruit of Open Science labors will hold some entrepreneur’s moneymaker!

Some links for those curious:

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