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  • Brigham Ignite

Innovation as an agent of change

Written by Glenn Miller

For the research or clinical scientist, a discovery can be an exciting piece of a puzzle or a eureka moment in a life-long journey of study. The reality is that, in isolation, a single discovery is unlikely to make a difference in a patient’s life immediately. The discovery needs to be translated into innovation to make that difference, be it to a single patient at MGB or many patients worldwide.

Moving beyond discovery to innovation involves a series of steps to mold the discovery into a proven and beneficial innovation. Such a process often includes further basic research, translational studies, regulatory approval, manufacturing, and product distribution, incorporating discovery into an innovative whole.

Various aspects of discovery will affect its translation into an innovation. A single discovery may be insufficient for a solution to a problem. Identifying the gaps leading to a downstream innovation is essential at this stage. Is the discovery “ahead of its time”? This is also known as the hammer looking for a nail conundrum. Innovators can assess potential markets looking for the “low hanging fruit” first opportunity. You might also find that the market may have already found a solution, or a workaround, for many problems that render the innovation’s economics based on your discovery unfavorable in comparison. In light of these challenges, why should a scientist consider innovating? Isn’t publication enough, thus leaving the innovation process someone else’s problem?

The short answer, we would argue, is no.

Beyond the obvious intellectual contribution, what is the role of the scientist in this discovery to innovation journey? As the discoverer/inventor, the scientist holds a unique place in developing an innovation. The scientist can help mold the creation of the innovation, suggest its most evident use and provide supporting data for those choices. The scientist is also uniquely positioned to create additional discoveries valuable to the subsequent innovation. Without these contributions, the discovery may remain an exciting piece of a puzzle never completely solved.

What paths to success should a scientist recognize and use in creating innovation out of discovery? It is essential to talk about your invention beyond the academic platform presentation and publication routes. Building awareness in your discovery will smooth the path to the next step of creating an innovation, building an innovation team. This is not to say the inventor is required to build an actual team but to suggest that innovations do not occur in a vacuum. Building communication skills will aid in the telling of how impactful the discovery is and the scale of the innovation(s) to come. This will help raise awareness, further pressure test the innovation and, identify the components needed to accomplish the goal. Reach out to the MGB Innovation Office. The Office can first assist with the required Invention Disclosure. You will also find experts in all phases of moving a Discovery to an Innovation. From financial advice to business expertise, support of many kinds will be needed to bring an innovation to the market. There are many avenues to consider when creating innovative products out of discoveries. Is the innovation disruptive enough to break into an existing market or create a new one? Are the market drivers and financial opportunities favorable enough to justify the risk in creating a new company? Not every product can stand alone in support of a new company. In such situations, it may be best to license the intellectual property to an established company able to move a product concept to marketed reality. In other cases, it may be best to hold the intellectual property within MGB to develop a product further, reduce the market risk, and build product value in the marketplace.

All of the above merits careful consideration when translating discovery to innovation. Making well-considered choices about building an innovation using your discovery building blocks will make the difference between an exciting discovery and an agent of change in healthcare reaching those in need at MGB and around the world.


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