Helping Life Sciences Professionals Make it Big in Business
Transforming research into business opportunities is not always an obvious course of action, however, much more research can and should be turned into entrepreneurial endeavours or commercialized in other ways.
The underlying problem
Life sciences researchers do, and often are encouraged to, focus on the technical and scientific aspects of their research, while other facets tend to be left by the wayside; however, promoting a well-rounded focus to life sciences education is crucial to successful innovation.
Professionals in life sciences have excellent industry training; however, there is a running trend of this education being largely one sided, with the focus trained heavily on the technical and scientific aspects of developing new medication and medical devices. “We speak frequently with businesses in our sector, and many businesses, especially small and medium sized businesses, tell us that the personnel they recruit are very strong technically and scientifically, but often lack the knowledge and expertise in the business sector,” says Frank Béraud, Chief Executive Officer at Montreal InVivo.
Life sciences professionals and those entering the industry benefit from a broader understanding about what happens to products after development is complete, and how to market and sell them effectively. Without this added knowledge, a product’s journey could be over before it even begins. Combining both technical and business facets facilitates the growth of an idea from concept to commercialization.
In order for learners in the life sciences industry to balance out their expertise and take advantage of the knowledge they already have, they need to have access to the training and education that will help them do so.
Correcting the imbalance
In 2017, Montreal InVivo joined forces with Concordia University’s John Molson Executive Centre and the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Pharmacy to develop the Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Development Program, which focuses on providing its participants with the knowledge and skills needed to shrink the gap between technical and business knowledge. This program provides cutting-edge managerial techniques and strategies to enable participants to develop and grow an innovative business. “I had been looking for a life sciences entrepreneurship program for a long time,” says Véronique Bougie, one of the participants in the first cohort of the program. “There aren’t very many. None, in fact.”
Including a focus on business acumen in life sciences education mitigates risks related to product market fit. By improving their management skills, life sciences researchers and experts can better prepare themselves for the business issues they encounter in their careers. “The project that you’re thinking is going to one day save someone’s life or provide better quality of life. That process of financing, of discovering the cost of capital, of discovering how to bring it to market, needs to have a huge applied component,” says Reena Atanasiadis, Director of the MBA in Investment Management at the John Molson School of Business and one of the instructors of the Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Development Program. “We need to tell you not only the why, but the how things happen.”
Understanding the market
A key factor in the effective development and distribution of medication and medical equipment is for professionals in the life sciences industry to recognize and understand the needs and wishes of a product’s stakeholders. “The drug developer needs to be able to understand the concerns of the different people or groups in society who are interested and who will ultimately facilitate access to market discovery,” says Dr. Denis DeBlois, tenured professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Montreal and one of the instructors of the Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Development Program. “You have to think about selling the idea of the benefits of a medication to these different people, so you have to be capable of seeing things from different perspectives.” The groups DeBlois references not only include the patients who would ultimately be taking the medication, but also those who are involved on a less direct level: the doctor who prescribes the medication, the insurance company who covers the cost or the government organization who deems the medication safe for use. The industry requires professionals to have excellent scientific and technical understanding; however, they need to use that knowledge in tandem with a good understanding of the market, stakeholders, and the industry in order for their work to reach the right people.
Life sciences at Concordia
In addition to the Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Development program, Concordia hosts a number of other resources dedicated to creating programs and initiatives based in the life sciences sector.
Concordia’s PERFORM Centre has state-of-the-art facilities and top-of-the-line equipment dedicated to the support of research and education in the health and life sciences sector with a focus on physical activity, nutrition and lifestyle. The centre aims to bring researchers, students and the community together to further the research, education and application of healthy living.
District 3 Innovation Centre is highly focused on supporting startups in the life sciences sector, with a large chunk of the centre dedicating resources to programs and initiatives through the Life Sciences District. One such program is the AI in Life Sciences Discovery Program, a six-week program that aims to accelerate the creation of disruptive solutions in life sciences leveraging AI. “Montreal is booming with the number of startups in AI” says Mahzad Sharifahmadian, Biolab Manager and Life Sciences Fellow at District 3. “The purpose of this program is to help life science researchers use AI in their area of expertise.”
The department stays involved with industry-relevant events in the community and in addition to hosting many such events, the Life Sciences District hosts monthly Biotalk sessions in which innovations and new trends in the life sciences industry are discussed.
In 2019, Concordia’s new applied sciences research centre is set to open at the Loyola campus. District 3’s involvement in this centre will include more space for life sciences startups, coaching and mentoring, as well as additional office space. It will provide innovative thinkers in the life sciences industry with the facilities required to work on their ideas. This research centre will have state-of-the-art facilities and equipment and will focus on bio and biomedical products.