How best to Prioritize the IP Portfolio in Universities, Charities and Research Funding Bodies?

by Saadia Basharat, PhD, Consultant, Alacrita


Any research commercialization manager in charge of a large project portfolio will agree that keeping on top of intellectual property (IP) is becoming an increasingly onerous task.  While great for scientific advance, collaboration across institutes is more frequent and collaborative research with industry is increasingly broader, deeper and over longer time periods. We are dealing with more complicated IP provisions, with many third-sector translational research grant providers now requiring equity or royalty sharing. As a result, the task of keeping on top of project progress and management of IP rights is becoming ever more complex. With the term ‘life science’ encompassing a wider range of therapeutic areas and technologies than ever before, it is understandably no longer an easy job to profile, review and prioritize the most promising IP in a meaningful way. Moreover, every technology transfer executive is constantly subjected to internal lobbying by academic inventors to provide additional effort and resources for their own projects. Yet, portfolio evaluation and prioritization is key to rational, objective and transparent decision-making when allocating finance and commercial support, and can really help attract funding and partnerships to the most promising projects. Not only is portfolio prioritization useful for large universities and research institutes, but it can be an extremely important tool for research charities looking to identify their most impactful or indeed commercialisable projects, as well as identifying IP sitting in other organizations that may have arisen from charity funding streams.

But with such big portfolios to manage nowadays, what is the most productive and yet efficient way of revealing what your portfolio is really made up of and identifying the hidden gems?

We have found the following three-step approach to be highly doable and most revealing.

Step 1.  IP Audit – use an online ‘project characterisation template’ to survey all principal investigators (PI) in your institution, or in the case of research funding bodies and charities, survey all the PIs involved in projects that you have funded. The aim of this step is to identify potentially impactful or commercialisable projects with recently filed or patentable IP.  You can design your survey to cover all of therapeutics, biomarkers/diagnostics, medical devices and even digital health in one go.  Some organizations may already do this to some extent, but we found a level of IP-focused refinement is required to actually uncover unprotected projects ‘sitting in the bank’ that you may well not be aware of.

Step 2.  Project Prioritization – take each completed ‘project profile’ submitted by your PIs in Step 1, and validate it, scoring projects on key commercial parameters such as healthcare value-add, market attractiveness and product developability.  Given the scale of the task, it is important that this is a ‘light-touch’ process. This will allow you to sort projects into categories of priority level. While you can certainly try to do this in-house, engaging function-specific industry specialists to complete this step with you will allow you to cover the spectrum of expertise required to review each project fairly and fully – and given the vested interests involved, objectively. 

Step 3.  Techno-Commercial Development Plans – as an optional final step, projects scoring the highest in Step 2 above can be developed into techno-commercial development plans.  These are high-level business cases for investment which characterise the scale of the opportunity arising from the IP, the differentiation of the IP and the costs, risk and timeline required to deliver. These allow you to quickly make decisions on which projects would benefit most from financial support to reach the next value-creating milestone. A development plan is extremely useful to have when negotiating with potential partners, as it demonstrates a clear strategy for the project and helps envisage the long-term opportunity – something which is typically lacking for early stage projects looking for external funding.

Completing even just Steps 1 and 2 alone can put you in a great position of understanding your whole life science portfolio in some reasonable depth, allowing you to make informed project-specific or organization-wide strategic decisions for at least the next few years. 

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