MANAGEMENT · With new hires, research institute turns to industry to touch more patients' lives, 'provide cures for cancer'
BY PAULINE PARRY
October 14, 2004 | While most academic organizations gauge their success by the annual number of publications or the amount of grant money secured, San Diego's Burnham Institute is using a more compelling metric of success: saving patients' lives.
This has driven the institute to make some key executive hires in the past few months. Says new chief operating officer Karin Eastham: "Our 10-year strategic plan, developed by president John Reed, is to increase the number of patient lives touched by the Burnham from the current number of 100,000 per year to 1 million per year. We want to provide cures for cancer."
The Burnham Institute has been designated by the National Cancer Institute as a cancer center for basic research since 1981. Research is led by 64 faculty, and more than half of the 600 staff members have doctorates. The only thing dividing the beautiful nine-acre Burnham campus from the Pacific Ocean is the Torrey Pines golf course.
Recognizing that brawn and beauty alone would not bring about an order-of-magnitude change in the institute's impact on patients, Reed, a distinguished cancer researcher, turned to the biotechnology community to find the expertise to take the institute to the next level.
CAPITAL IDEA: Burnham is looking for corporate partners to leverage its scientists' inventions
This summer, he lured Eastham, a 25-year veteran of the San Diego biotechnology community with two IPOs under her belt, to switch to academia. One of Eastham's first hires was Adrienne Day, another experienced biotechnology executive, into the newly created position of vice president of business development — signaling the Burnham's desire to turn toward the business world to help bridge the gap between fundamental research and treatments for disease.
The institute has a history of entrepreneurship: Telios, ActivX, and Idun Pharmaceuticals are among the local companies with roots at the Burnham. "We're going to build on our history, but now be more proactive and strategic in helping our scientists to leverage their inventions. We will also be creative in establishing relationships with corporate partners," Day says.
By building relationships with venture capitalists and bankers, and identifying complementary technologies with which Burnham inventions could be "bundled," the Burnham's new team hopes to nurture more companies in which the institute will hold significant equity. "Federal grants currently make up more than 80 percent of our research budget," Eastham says. "We don't want to become a commercial organization. However, we do aim to create more discretionary funds for the institute, as well as to advance commercialization and accelerate the discovery of potential cancer cures."
In time, revenue from the business ventures will be plowed back into the research laboratories, facilitating the search for potential cancer treatments. Eastham and Day believe the goal of 1 million lives touched is getting closer.