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Improving the Business of Science

New center seeks to help translate research into products

If there were a drug that could cure cancer or prevent Alzheimer’s disease, you would undoubtedly want it. But the important question is: how would such a drug be discovered and brought to market?

Tough issues like this are on the table at Bentley’s Center for Integration of Science and Industry. The center will specifically explore how to translate great science into public value to help make a difference in the world.

“We want to find out why so many exciting scientific discoveries — some that could potentially save lives — never make it to the public,” says Fred Ledley, director of the center. “The answer lies in studying the interface between amazing science and amazing business acumen to improve processes.”

To do that, the university solicited a $1.3 million grant from National Biomedical Research Foundation. Efforts will initially focus on the biopharmaceutical industry. Despite radical advances in molecular biology, chemistry, and genomics, according to Ledley, there have been scarce improvements in the number of products coming to market or the time and cost required for product development.

Answers could provide critical solutions for other industries in similar positions:

  • In agricultural science, it is estimated that there is a 30-year lag between scientific discoveries and corresponding crop improvements.
  • In energy, research in distributed generation and alternative energy technologies have not provided products that can compete effectively with fossil fuels.
  • In the workplace, advances in automation and information technology have produced proportionally smaller improvements in worker productivity.

“There’s clearly something about the structure of companies and investment that is not efficiently translating science and technology into public value,” Ledley explains. “By public value, I’m not just talking about investors making money. I’m talking about individuals benefitting. There has to be both.”

The uniqueness of the center is that it tackles an age-old disconnect between scientists and business people.

“They often don’t get along. Many scientists see industry as a inherently bad. But business can be creative; it can be conscious,” says Ledley, who holds faculty posts in both Natural and Applied Sciences and Management.

In that light, faculty, students, and visiting scholars come together to promote thought leadership and scholarship that spans science, technology, management, finance, and public policy. In the center, Ledley, Research Associate Laura McNamee, and Post-Doctoral Fellow Andrea Ballabeni work closely with Executives-in-Residence:

  • Michael Boss, a leader in the biotechnology industry for more than 30 years as a scientist and senior executive
  • Nancy Hsiung, with more than 30 years of experience in the biotechnology industry, in scientific and managerial positions, and in the investment community

Undergraduates play a central role in the research activities of the center. Senior Economics-Finance major Aaron Perlman has taken advantage of both his interest in medicine and his business training to collect data on cancer outcomes, the emergence of new technologies for treating cancer, and the financing of cancer research. The project is aimed at understanding how companies might more efficiently translate scientific discoveries into improved cancer outcomes.

“My passion for science drives my research, but I use my skills in economics and finance to analyze trends on cancer research spending for government and private institutions,” Perlman says. “Working with experienced professionals in the biotech industry provides exposure that is unavailable to most of my peers.”

Mathematical Sciences major Ashley Rossi performs statistical analysis and develops analytical models to examine the emergence of new technologies and the success of companies developing products from these technologies.

“The position has given me a tremendous amount of experience working with mathematical modeling and various types of software,” says the Bentley senior. “During job interviews, the center is always a talking point, both in regard to the type of data we are studying and the methods we use.”

A scientist at heart, Ledley is not about to abandon all things scientific; but he does modify things a bit. “Our version of an experiment is going over to the Trading Room to pull financial data on a set of companies or using a clinical database to explore a company’s product pipelines,” Ledley explains.

He aims to dispel the myth that bringing business into the science enterprise becomes a matter of making profit.

“Once you recognize the power of business to do good things, you can actually study something worthwhile: taking science and making sure something good comes out of it,” Ledley says. “If we can do that, we are going to do great things here.”