Joslin Diabetes Center: Building “collaboratories” for diabetes solutions
John Brooks has lit a fire under the Joslin Diabetes Center. Over the past year a string of announcements has flowed from the traditionally understated 114-year-old institution. Some wondered if the center was still affiliated with Harvard Medical School or if the Harvard Business School had taken over.
Recent news includes a partnership for drug development, the discovery of novel markers for diabetes, and molecular and genetic keys to type 1 and 2 diabetes. There has also been a raft of announcements about newly appointed executive staff as Brooks transforms Joslin from the inside out.
You can meet with Joslin’s John Brooks and other “hot in Boston” companies at the BioPharm America™ partnering event in September.
The crowning achievement to date in his quest to reinvigorate Joslin, first as Chairman and now as CEO, came in January with the announcement of a USD 10.8 million investment to create a comprehensive Translational Center for the Cure of Diabetes.
The financing for this overhaul of infrastructure is provided by a USD 5 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, as well as USD 5.8 million in matching donations.
A former venture capitalist who came up the finance side of life sciences, Brooks also succeeded in staunching the red ink, cutting a USD 11 million annual deficit to under USD 2 million in one year.
Now Joslin is on the hunt for fresh revenues to support its global mission with newly created entities that channel the expanding entrepreneurial activity. Financial stability is the near-term goal for the nonprofit organization. The strategic objective is more far-reaching.
“If diabetes is a topic being discussed, then Joslin wants to be part of that discussion,” said Brooks. “We want to be a catalyst. We will provide ideas. We want to hear ideas from other people. If you are working in diabetes, we will find some way to bring you in.”
The hub for this activity is the Office of Commercialization & Ventures that aims to create strategic relationships with industry and leverage Joslin’s world-leading expertise in diabetes-directed research, educational programs and clinical care.
There is also Jenesis Biosciences, as a for-profit to advance novel product and services opportunities to a commercially ready stage through grants and investments from venture capital firms. This venture arm can establish independent entities that qualify for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding.
Another new wing of the institution is Joslin Technologies with contract research and development services that leverage Joslin’s broad expertise and infrastructure to facilitate regulatory readiness and submissions.
Services include access to a diabetes-specific patient population, the availability of biobanks for samples and data, and a dedicated laboratory space to provide documentation and data. Companies can call on Joslin for screenings of drug candidates or validation of biomarkers or clinical studies.
Brooks hopes to see “lots of ideas and initiatives, pilots and trials. We want to take our experience and knowledge and deliver it to other institutions whether across the street, across the state, across the country or across the globe.
“It’s no longer just about what we do for our 24,000 patients at Joslin,” he said. “Instead, we are asking what we can do to have greater impact and make a dent in the staggering numbers we are seeing forecast for diabetes over the next 10 or 20 years.”
The central theme of Brooks’ drive to renew Joslin is “collaboratories,” an effort to move beyond collaboration to active, working relationships.
“Joslin is ready to work with any institution, company, healthcare provider, employer or payer,” he said. “Let’s not try to define a perfect relationship first, let’s build the airplane while we are flying it. We want to try new approaches, experiment, and recognize we will learn by doing things.
“We do not want to watch and wait as the landscape takes shape but to be in the forefront for research, for clinical care, for education and training, for credentialing, and in working with industry,” he said.
“We are open to creating structures and mechanisms that are not perfect, that are works-in-progress,” he said. “Our motivation is to get meaningful drugs, devices, apps or solutions to a point where they will be available for our patients.”
The Translational Center for the Cure of Diabetes will see the renovation of nearly 20,000 square feet, encompassing 16 unique sub-projects that bridge clinical research, clinical care, and basic research with translational programs.
“Joslin is focused on finding a cure for type I diabetes,” said Brooks, and industry is heartily encouraged to join the effort.
The Translational Center aims to foster new research approaches creating a space where external clinical researchers can work side-by-side and collaborate with Joslin’s clinical team.
Partnering with Joslin can extend beyond discovery to moving products closer to patients.
“For young companies, we can help navigate the regulatory, cost effectiveness, and clinical adoption processes for products or solutions or a technology,” said Brooks.
“We have also put a lot more focus on outcomes research,” he said. “We can help companies both large and small to understand the economics associated with a given solution.
“Anyone working on a new drug or new therapeutic or new device today needs to be sure they not only get through regulatory approval but through a reimbursement process as well, and then think about adoption, demonstrating that the product will be cost-effective and will work in the new healthcare economic framework.
“Almost half of the 300 people at Joslin work in research,” he said. “We have over 50 major investigators working in all areas of diabetes under 11 major section heads. Traditionally as an academic institution, we would look to a typical tech transfer approach. Something would be published, rudimentary IP would be gathered around it, and then we would hope that some industry funder or partner would identify that opportunity and find a way to bring it forward.
“That is no longer an effective model if our focus is on translating ideas and delivering real solutions to patients,” said Brooks.
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