Deadline approaching for Office of Technology Development (OTD) internships

By Lin Lofley

For the second straight year, the Office for Technology Development (OTD) is accepting applications for a pair of internships that will offer the opportunity to learn the commercialization end of UT Southwestern Medical Center’s commitment to bridging the gap between research and industry.

Frank Grassler with Drs. Kristi Lynn and Aki Uchida (right)
Frank Grassler with Drs. Kristi Lynn and Aki Uchida (right)

The OTD was created in 1998, and moved into its base in the BioCenter at Southwestern Medical District when that facility opened in 2010. UTSW researchers gain access to a team of cooperative research, licensing, patenting, technology transfer, and venture development experts, available to put together agreements with partners in the health care industry.

The internships came into being last year with the goal of educating participants in processes that are becoming paramount in the melding of intellectual property (IP) management and biomedical technology. But the program also provides training in business processes – licensing, negotiation, and market research and analysis – and allows the interns an opportunity to engage with IP experts.

“This is part of our educational mission, and we’ve received broad support from Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern, and from the Office of the Chancellor of the UT System,” said Frank Grassler, UT Southwestern Vice President for Technology Development. “We’re creating multiple avenues of educating the campus community on principles of commercializing biomedical technology, such as seminars, presentations, and the like, and the creation of the internship program is seen as one of those educational avenues. Additionally, we’re about nurturing the biomedical community and fostering the growth of the biomedical industry for Dallas-Fort Worth, and for all of North Texas, and this program broadly supports that goal by helping train local experts in this field.”

Requirements that candidates for the program must meet are available on the Internships tab of the Office for Technology Development page of the UT Southwestern homepage. But the best endorsement of the program might come for Drs. Kristi Lynn and Aki Uchida, the first interns to completed the program.

“The internship was an incredibly valuable experience and I encourage anyone who is interested in the commercialization of new ideas from the university to apply,” said Dr. Lynn, who completed her doctoral thesis in 2011 in the lab of Rolf Brekken, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Surgery, and of Pharmacology, and an Effie Marie Cain Research Scholar.

 “This internship introduced me to the broad picture associated with the commercialization of new technologies,” said Dr. Lynn, who began her postdoctoral research under the late Dr. Philip Thorpe, Professor of Pharmacology, and is currently doing postdoctoral work in the Dr. Brekken’s lab.  “Prior to this internship, I’d never done a marketing project or took a marketing class, but I was able to learn these skills from some wonderful mentors in the Office of Technology Development. They told me to not concentrate so much on the hardcore science of the product. In the end you have to ask yourself: ‘What are they going to put into a box and sell to someone?’ That helped a lot.”

 Dr. Uchida, who earned her doctorate at Purdue University, and is now conducting postdoctoral research in the lab of Eric Berglund, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Advanced Imaging Research Center, and of Pharmacology, had a similar experience: “The internship made me very aware of the different aspects of the university. Getting to understand the business side, especially, made me more aware of what I do in the lab.

“Yes, I’m collecting data; but what is the big picture? This program allowed me to see the bench work-to-commercialization side of things.”

Dr. Lynn’s Capstone project involved two technologies for which patents had been filed but not yet issued. “We were looking for licensees to partner with the university and develop our technologies into clinical products,” she said. “I developed marketing pieces describing the technology, and identified companies that might be interested based on what they provide and whether they’re looking to bring in new technologies. We made the contacts and set up  meetings with potential licensees.”

Dr. Uchida, whose only previous contact with marketing was serving as an alumni admissions representative for her alma mater, Carlton College, immediately knew that she was in a different world.

“I had one medical device and one therapeutic device to work with,” she said. “I made a marketing piece, and I contacted companies. Then we gauged their interest in the product.”

Under terms of the internship components, the participants put in about six hours a week, which is not a small thing for UT Southwestern employees holding M.D. or Ph.D. degrees, or the equivalent.

“The challenge for me was the time management portion,” Dr. Uchida said. “I was working part-time in the OTD, but I was still working full time in the Bergland lab. But most people on this campus are faced with time management challenges.”

Complete information on the program is available on the homepage of the Office for Technology Development.