17 Secrets to Success in Biotech and Life Science Translation and Tech Transfer

We’ve been asking the UK’s leading biotech and life science translational experts, including Cancer Research TechnologyIsis InnovationThe Wellcome Trust, J&J Innovations, The Francis Crick Institute, Edinburgh BioQuarter, The Wellcome Trust and Imperial Innovations what the key success factors are to translation. We’ve distilled their answers into 17 factors that can mean the difference between success and failure. Personally, I think number 15 is the most important.

1)     Have a demonstrable market need. Do your market research homework. You need to have a project that addresses an important unmet medical need. ‘Me-toos’ and incremental differences won’t cut it.


2)     Intellectual property. Make sure the IP is clear and you have a good strategy behind it. Make absolutely sure that you don’t publish research before the patent’s been filed! Choose your patent attorney carefully – don’t let them push you around and make sure they understand how to make the IP investor ready


3)     Know the competitive landscape! An obvious point, but as Mike Capaldi reminds us: 

‘So, we’ve invented a drug or a diagnostic device, which fills a current need in the market. But who else is also working towards that goal?  How well developed is their product?  What potential advantages does your product have over theirs? You may not want to proceed if somebody else is already 2 years ahead of you with an equivalent product!’


4)     Find the right management team!  Easier said than done, but every investor worth his salt will always look at the quality of the management team and whether due consideration has been given to this. Keep in mind inventors of the technology are not necessarily the best people to run the spin out company, although it is often critical that the technology inventor stays intimately involved.  Richard Seabrook at the Wellcome Trust reminds us that he will only fund ‘people who have all the right competences and attitude to deliver on the project. ‘


5)     Identify your gaps in the value chain early and find the right people to fill them. As Keith Blundy, CEO of Cancer Research Technology says:

I think successful commercialisation means identifying the right people who bring the right part of the value chain you haven’t got, or can’t build.  Then doing the deal speedily and doing it in a fair and transparent way.’


6)     Have Options! Make sure you identify more than one route and find alternative channels you can pursue on the translation journey.


7)     Develop your BD team. Make sure you create a culture where they are focused on getting deals done.


8)     Don’t over process it! You need governance but frankly you need to be entrepreneurial and opportunistic.


9)     Be optimistic! With a desire to move things forward. That is much more important than a flashy brochure with process points.


10)  Be Open and Transparent! Nothing will derail the commercialisation of a technology faster than if there are question marks over the integrity of the process, the data or a unwillingness to communicate with candour.


11)  If you’re the researcher, DRIVE the process!  As Anne Lane from UCL Business says: ‘I think the researcher needs to be the driver, they really have to want to have a spinout and really believe in it. We’ve tried to develop technologies where the researcher really hasn’t been on board and isn’t interested and you can imagine that makes for a very difficult process’


12)  Find the experts and connect them. Experts, as Patrick Verheyen of J&J defines them, are ‘those people who have a very deep understanding of the basic biology, the fundamental problem of the disease, and connect that with the patient needs.’ For Patrick, if you have those people close, so that they can interact with academia, clinical centres, through the VC’s, that’s a fundamental factor in successful translation.


13)  Network, network, network!Again, Patrick Verheyen says it best: ‘It is by working with other people in the industry, and outside the industry that you really refine your thinking and you get to a better result. If you can couple deep expertise over a really vast network you can make better decisions, be more efficient with capital and invest capital on those ideas and concepts that will lead to the most transformative products, not just 3 years from now but in 10-15 years from now. ‘


14)  Have passion and conviction!  Bit cliché, but you need people who are motivated and passionate about the science and the mission for successful translation to happen. People who have a long term vision, who remain focussed on the science and on the patient ,and who can deliver.


15)  Align your interests from the start. Make sure you are clear on what your interests are, and make sure those interests are aligned with any industrial partner you may wish to get into bed with – and do this early, before valuable time and effort is expended. As Tony Hickson from Imperial Innovations says: ‘successful technology collaborations require an alignment of interests right at the very start. If, when you start out, your interests are aligned, the industrial partner is very clear about what they want to achieve and the academic is very clear what he or she wants to get out of it, then it tends to end up with a deal and success. ‘


16)  Reach out to VC’s in the right way! VC’s are looking for a clear IP policy, openness and realism in terms of what you have, a succinct and clear pitch, people who are flexible and recognise their own weaknesses and strengths and of course a technology that meets an important unmet need


17)  Humanisation of research - bringing the human species closer to the decision making that happens in the scientific minds and laboratories. As David Roblin, COO and Director of Translation, The Francis Crick Institute explains: 


In a sense its reverse translation, it’s making human tissues and cells more available for testing and also it means where you can, getting to humans in the clinic good and early because you get insights there that you wouldn’t get from any other species. As I design any translational programme, it has that at its heart. ‘

So, there you have it. 17 KSF’s to translation. What’s your favourite?

Tech transfer, translational funding and start up capital for biotechs is the focus of Biotech and Money’s August edition of Drugs & Dealers. This blog is part of a series on the topic.

You may want to check out my blog piece on the challenges keeping translation experts awake at night. or my piece on the 6 super tech transfer tips for life science startups

Subscribe for free now to get access to all the exclusive interviews and features in our Magazine.


The release of the magazine coincides with our exclusive evening event on tech transfer and start up funding on Sept 4th, from 6-9pm at the Imperial Incubator.


Sponsored by Marks & Clerk LLP, the event will feature the following speakers:

  • Mike Capaldi, Director, Edinburgh BioQuarter 
  • Keith Blundy, CEO, Cancer Research Technology
  • Tony Hickson, Managing Director, Technology Transfer, Imperial Innovations
  • Simon Portman, Managing Associate, Marks & Clerk LLP
  • Richard Seabrook, Head of Business Development, Innovations, Wellcome Trust
  • Allan Marchington, Partner, Life Sciences Investments, Apposite Capital 

Already registered to attend are delegates from: Imperial Innovations, Wellcome Trust, Edinburgh BioQuarter, Imperial College Health Partners, UCL Business, Isis Innovation, UCL Enterprise, UCL Partners, Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst, Oxford Health Science Network, Apposite Capital, Cambridge Innovation Capital, Kings Health Partners, EAHSN, Magnus LIfe Science, Lincoln University, Index Ventures,  and several more…


Registration is £85 for Non-members, £45 for Members, Academics, TTOs and Start Ups

Hope you can join us!

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