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MIT President Speaks

By Maureen McDonough

July 20, 2005 | Susan Hockfield, president of MIT, stressed the importance of industry and academia collaboration in her keynote address at the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council’s annual meeting on May 26.

President of an institute traditionally recognized for its expertise in physical sciences and engineering, Hockfield became the first life scientist to lead MIT when she assumed office in December 2004.

The scientific and engineering accomplishments of the past were made possible in part by public investment, Hockfield said. Those federal dollars, however, are not coming as quickly as they once did. “When federal funding is so constrained, yet the potential of the science is so great, the collaboration between universities and industry is essential,” she said.

This is nothing new at MIT. The Institute has a long record of collaborating with industry. But Hockfield believes that these relationships can be strengthened and more productive. “It’s not just taking good ideas and moving them into industry,” she said. “The connection is a work in progress. We want to streamline the pathway of getting innovation into industry.”

To foster better collaboration in the life sciences, MIT will launch the Center for Biomedical Innovation (CBI) this summer. By bringing together major players from industry, government, and academia, the center hopes to develop tools to more efficiently and safely move life sciences advances from the laboratory to the market. The discussions hosted by CBI will speak directly to the needs of both academia and industry, Hockfield said.

The CBI program will begin with an “All Stakeholder Summit” scheduled for June 16 and 17. “We will bring together stakeholders with the common objective to find solutions that will transform the industry,” said Frank Douglas, the former executive vice president and chief scientific officer of Aventis SA, who will lead the new center. “Across the board, a lot of old models really need to be examined, and CBI is where it can happen.”

Those old models include the so-called blockbuster drug mentality, current drug pricing systems, and pre- and post-market safety monitoring methods. By directly addressing these issues and the general slowing of large pharmaceutical innovation, CBI hopes to push the leading edge of healthcare forward.

Some problems are too big for any one establishment to solve, Hockfield said. She cited the Broad Institute as an example of how enabling collaborative projects is sometimes the only way to get a job done.

“We are launching CBI because there are changes on the horizon for the biomedical industry,” Hockfield said. “We aim to make CBI a safe harbor for players across the spectrum to contribute.”

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