Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center: Defining a New Way to Nurture Innovation
Dr. Timothy Block and his colleagues are defining a new way of nurturing innovation at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center of Bucks County, a hub of research and entrepreneurship. The PA Biotech Center recently received an $815,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to allow intellectuals in government, nonprofit organizations and industry to road test new biotechnology ideas.
“Essentially, these scientists will take a sabbatical with us in our research center in an environment where there’s a great deal of entrepreneurship and business guidance, supported by a knowledge community,” says Dr. Block, a professor at the Drexel University College of Medicine and president of the PA Biotech Center. “They will develop their idea and determine its feasibility in a real laboratory setting.”
A Competitive Opportunity to Participate
Dr. Block and his colleagues held a competition to choose the scientists who will be funded by the grant. “We asked people to provide a brief proposal,” he says. “It was important that their ideas be unique and compatible with what we do here.” The four winners-chosen from 40 applicants-come from a variety of backgrounds and represent a range of proposal topics from medical chemistry to bio-defense. “We will benefit from having these smart guys around, and they’ll benefit from our resources and our collective wisdom,” says Dr. Block.
Throughout their one- to two-year sabbatical at the PA Biotech Center, the scientists will have to meet certain milestones and will be judged at intervals throughout the year. “The goal is for them to exit with successful entrepreneurial investments,” Dr. Block says.
Driving Biotechnology and the Economy
Dr. Block jokingly refers to the program as “Who wants to be an entrepreneur?” but the goals are very serious indeed. The $815,000 grant supporting the program will provide salary support for the scientists as well as some money for supplies. Ben Franklin Technology Partners played a key role in writing the grant, specifically by crafting some of the ideas and putting them in the right format to be understood by the EDA. “Ben Franklin helped us stay on message when dealing with economic stimulus issues,” he says.
The relationship between Dr. Block and BFTP is longstanding. BFTP helped with the 2006 launch of the PA Biotech Center, which was created by Dr. Block’s foundation, the Hepatitis B Foundation and its research organization, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Institute. The PA Biotech Center gives budding Pennsylvania biotech companies a home to reseed in their early stages. “These biotech companies with two to five employees benefit from being here, and we benefit from their synergies,” he says. “Plus, it is a great regional economic driver.” Several of the center’s companies have grown considerably, including Immunotope, which is in the process of being acquired.
A History of Support
BFTP supported and funded the creation of the Ben Franklin Innovation Center almost 10 years ago, which worked with Dr. Block and his team to support and grow scientific research from discovery to commercialization. “Their support has been vital. Without Ben Franklin, we would not have had the sensitivity, the professionalism or, frankly, the obligation to help small companies and startups; they have brought a degree of discipline and mission that was certainly not a part of our thinking as discovery scientists,” he says. Overall, BFTP has invested just over half a million dollars.
Dr. Block’s upcoming sabbatical program for scientists continues the mission of the PA Biotech Center-to support biotech research and help stimulate the local economy. “I don’t know if the project is unprecedented, but it is definitely unusual,” he says. “We have some really bright mission-oriented people coming. It may define a new way of nurturing innovation.”
Keynotes April, 2008
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