Filling The Gap: Translating Your Research Via Disease Foundation Support

Partners WEB Blog Graphics 171013 1032 SYMPOSIUM 150

An energetic audience gathered on September 19th at The Brigham to attend the Partners Innovation Symposium Series in which the focus was “Filling The Gap: Translating Your Research Via Disease Foundation Support”. The session was focused on developing strategies for obtaining translational research funding from disease focused foundations and was the first of five Symposium Series sessions that Innovation will organize between September 2017 and February 2018. The Series encourages innovation and recognizes the entrepreneurial spirit of the PHS research community and take part on either the BWH or MGH campuses.

Keynote speaker Howard Weiner, MD

The event was moderated by Dr. Howard Weiner, M.D., Director, Multiple Sclerosis Program, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Robert L. Kroc Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School. Dr. Weiner commenced the event by highlighting his own efforts and approaches to securing funding from foundations such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation and the American Cancer Society. During Dr. Weiner’s presentation common themes were highlighted, including:

  • The need to develop a compelling case, or story, about your research that can be easily explained to both the general community, and a potential funding research audience.
  • The importance of looking for areas of collaboration in which you can leverage your research story to different funding sources. An example of that approach could be using a basic research mechanism or platform technology that has applicability in one of more disease areas.

Following his presentation, Dr. Weiner was joined on stage for a fireside chat by Dr. Walter Kostich, Ph.D., Director Commercial Research, National Multiple Sclerosis Society. During their conversation, Dr. Kostich provided valuable insights as to how foundations make their funding decisions; the important take-home messages for the audience included:

  • Be proactive at identifying the relevant scientific program manager within the foundation.
  • Work to cultivate a productive relationship with the program manager to ensure they are clearly aware of the scientific merit of your proposal and the desire that you have as a researcher in making a positive contribution to improving the lives of patients affected by this disease.
  • Be prepared to view the foundation as a potential long term collaborator in your research and not just a simple source of funding.

Fireside chat with Howard Weiner, MD and Walter Kostich, PhD

After the fireside chat, Dr. Omid Farokhzad, MD, Director, Center for Nanomedicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Professor of Anaesthesia, Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Giullermo (Gary) Tearney, MD, Ph.D,  Mike and Sue Hazard Family MGH Research Scholar, Professor of Pathology, Harvard Medical School joined the stage for an informative panel discussion.

Expert panel from left to right: Walter Kostich, PhD, Howard Weiner, MD, Omid Farokhzad, MD, Guillermo Tearney MD, PhD

Dr. Farokhzad recalled his initial fund raising efforts with foundations and in particular gave an enthralling description of working with the Prostate Cancer Foundation. He highlighted the importance of being technology hungry, having a passion for describing your research and viewing the foundation as a platform for not just funding your search but for expanding your professional network and being part of an important community. He also emphasized the need to recognize when key opportunities arise, or as he called it, the “convergence of luck and luck.” So when you have the opportunity to meet a key donor for a foundation, make the most of it.

On that train of thought, Dr. Tearney recalled his first in-person meeting with Bill Gates and how the ability to describe the research opportunity to the level of detail appropriate for the listener was crucial. Similar to some of the previous comments, Dr. Tearney commented, “Self-advocacy is vital. You need to get out there.” Dr. Tearney also highlighted the need to leverage resources within Partners. He specifically mentioned his partnerships with both Innovation and the Development Office at MGH in helping to put this initial relationship in place and also the management of the relationship with a long-term point of view in mind.

A lively question and answer session with the audience followed with skillful moderation by Dr. Weiner Some of the key take-home messages for the audience were:

  • Describe your research in a compelling manner. In essence, “Tell your story”
  • Be proactive and display strong-self advocacy, “Get yourself out there”
  • View foundations as a key strategic partner, and in particular, cultivate the relationship with the relevant scientific officer
  • Take advantage of the many mentorship and networking opportunities that these foundations can provide
  • Take advantage of PHS resources, such as Innovation and Development that are helpful in establishing and/or maintaining these relationships going forward

Overall, and in the current funding environment for research, the ability to access foundation funding support was viewed by the panelists as vital for all PHS researchers, regardless of where they are at their career.

A lively networking event provided a fitting end to this Symposium session. The next session will take place on October 17th at MGH and will cover “Intellectual Property Protection: Safeguarding Your Research for Commercialization.”

See you there!

Great questions from attendees


To watch the full length video of this session click here.

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