Yale’s recently established Center for Biomedical and Interventional Technology (CBIT), the mission of which is to foster greater innovation in medical technology, welcomed world-renowned engineer Dr. Bob Langer to speak before a full crowd at the Yale School of Medicine. An author on some 1,250 journal articles holding 1,050 patents, Dr. Langer is the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT, and the most highly cited engineer in history. Additionally, he has won over 220 major awards including the US National Medal of Science, US National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the Charles Stark Draper Prize and the Lemelson-MIT prize.
Dr. Langer’s talk focused on the creation of disruptive ‘platform’ technologies and examples of how he has been able to translate innovative technologies into medical applications and commercial ventures. He began with a personal account of his early career as a post-doc at Boston Children’s Hospital, where he created a polymer system for the sustained release of biochemically active macromolecules, such as proteins and drugs. At the time, leading experts in the field said this could not be done, but Dr. Langer admitted he was fortunate enough to be unaware of this consensus and eventually succeeded. He also stressed the importance of securing intellectual property (IP) on an invention, regardless of legal logistics, citing how his first patent with Boston was rejected 6 years in a row. He went on to give his own formula for successful technology translation:
1) Develop new technology ideally a platform with many applications
2) Publish a seminal paper in Science or Nature
3) Secure a patent tied to seminal papers, ideally broad blocking patents
4) Provide in vivo proof of principle
5) Complete with current or former students
According to Langer, working with students is ideal because “they will walk through walls” to make an idea successful, whereas a company licensing the technology is more likely to give up, or just sit on the patent. He went on to highlight some of the many students and companies that have come through his lab, including CBIT Co-founder and Yale’s BME Department Head, Dr. Mark Saltzman, Dr. Laura Niklason, also a Yale professor and co-founder of Humacyte, and Dr. Christopher Loose, CBIT executive director and co-founder of Semprus BioSciences.
Sharing applications that ranged from aerosolized therapeutics, to drug eluting wafers to treat glioblastoma multiforme, to entire pharmacies-on-a-chip that can be implanted and controlled via cellphone, Langer encouraged all to keep an open mind and to consider the possibility that most things are possible. This mindset has led to unanticipated collaborations with Bill and Melinda Gates for better forms of birth control in Africa, and even Jennifer Aniston to help sell Langer-pioneered polyfluoroesters as consumer no-frizz hair care products.
In the end, he stressed that academics come first, “we publish everything we do,” but great VCs and CEOs are also critical for successful translation. Langer concluded by sharing a sentiment held by James Watson that “people have great curiosity, and then somehow it gets beaten out of them.” Fittingly, Langer’s last piece of advice was to “dream big, don’t give up.”
CURE was proud to be a sponsor for this event along with Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, Connecticut Innovations, Yale School of Management, Yale Center for Clinical Investigation, and Yale-New Haven Hospital.
By Kevin Rocco
Biomedical Engineer at Soft Tissue Regeneration