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Weill Cornell lab helps translate ideas into innovations

Sarah Kishinevsky
John Abbott/Provided
Sarah Kishinevsky, Ph.D. '16, director of the new Dean's Entrepreneurship Lab at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Weill Cornell Medicine has recently launched a dedicated program to foster an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation throughout the institution. The program, the Dean’s Entrepreneurship Lab, provides resources and educational opportunities to students and faculty who have ideas with commercial potential that they want to translate from the lab to the patient.

This bench-to-bedside process is complicated, with a wide gap between what scientists typically pursue on their own – publishing research, developing a prototype – and later phases of development, like starting a company. The Dean’s Entrepreneurship Lab, or eLab, strives to bridge this divide, helping researchers propel their ideas forward by working with them to develop a business plan, connect with collaborators and mentors, and pitch to potential investors. It also seeks to equip students and postdoctoral associates with skills to become leaders in life sciences industries.

“During my Ph.D. program, I was struck by how many talented and creative people with really, really great ideas there are here at Weill Cornell. However, as researchers and clinicians, our training focuses on the research process; to translate these inventions to patients, we also need to have an understanding of the commercialization process,” said eLab Director Sarah Kishinevsky, Ph.D. ’16. “Now, through the Dean’s Entrepreneurship Lab, we’re helping people write that business plan, find the right investors, create a company and, ultimately, improve their chances of successfully translating their invention to the clinic.”

“Innovation is essential to solve health care challenges, and here at Weill Cornell Medicine, we realized that we were sitting on a gold mine of unrealized potential,” said Larry Schlossman, managing director of Weill Cornell Medicine’s Office of Biopharma Alliances and Research Collaborations, the umbrella organization that designed and launched eLab. “The eLab is just one of the ways in which we’re working proactively to help bridge the gap between the promising ideas developed by our researchers and faculty members and the biopharmaceutical industry, which can deliver these innovations to the patients who need them. We also want to grow the next generation of leaders in the life sciences industries and provide new career paths for members of our community, students and postdocs in particular.”

The eLab is part of a larger effort to develop a robust life sciences and innovation ecosystem in New York state, where public funding of research vastly exceeds venture funding relative to areas with more mature sectors, such as Massachusetts.

While the eLab officially launched in March 2016, hundreds of students have already taken the flagship 12-week course in entrepreneurship, called the Bench to Bedside Initiative. This course covers defining a drug or device’s market, writing a business plan, securing a patent to incorporate and culminates in a pitch day to venture capitalists. The eLab also sponsors an annual business plan competition, in which students can earn $15,000 or more in various prizes to pursue their vision.

Outside of classes, Kishinevsky works with students, postdocs or faculty to help them define what type of business they want to form, guiding them through the business plan process, connecting them with potential physician collaborators and finding mentors to help lead them through the clinical trials design process.

The eLab also offers resources to students and faculty, providing them with information and guidance on business and legal aspects of the development process. In six months, the eLab will also unveil a new makerspace, with a 3-D printer and electronics station, Kishinevsky said, which will serve as a place to develop ideas and build the entrepreneurial community.

To build that community now, and to bring together people who are interested in entrepreneurship, the eLab will co-host with Entrepreneurship at Cornell a Startup Symposium at 5 p.m., Jan. 26, in Weill Cornell’s Uris Auditorium. The idea is to gather scientists, doctors, investors and mentors for a night of networking and conversation. It’s also a way to showcase entrepreneurial work at Weill Cornell Medicine, Kishinevsky said, and illustrate how the institution is part of the thriving biotech entrepreneurship culture in New York City.

The event will feature a talk from Lewis Cantley, the Meyer Director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center and a professor of cancer biology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, who co-founded two companies, most recently Petra Pharma, that originated from his work at Weill Cornell Medicine. Juan R. Cubillos-Ruiz, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, will share his experience as a new faculty member co-founding his New York City-based startup Quentis Therapeutics, which is focused on developing the next generation of cancer immunotherapies. Six companies in different stages of the startup and development process will also present and share their experiences.

Anne Machalinski is a freelance writer for Weill Cornell Medicine.

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