Ella Dixon and students Rohit Bhat and Liam Rollo are helping translate healthtech research into commercial reality through a programme called Bridging Science and Research.
Dixon is co-lead for the commercial translation module, one of five key workstreams within the healthtech capability programme launched in late 2021. The programme is run by a combination of the Centre for Medical Technology (CMDT) and Brain Research New Zealand through the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI).
“From an ABI perspective, we see some quality technology ideas from our PhD students but they’re focused on what they’re doing rather than turning it into a business. Many researchers – who are mostly engineers or clinicians – aren’t overly interested in commercialisation. It can be a lack of interest, it can be a time thing, making it happen on top of their research commitments.
“That’s where we come in – creating a bridge between science and commercialisation. Our job is to help make that process easier and show our students where something could be commercialised,” says Dixon.
Rohit Bhat and Liam Rollo (right) are Masters of Bioscience Enterprise (MBioEnt) interns who are contracted out to CMDT research partners or very early stage companies focused on healthtech.
“It’s free of charge and designed to help these groups and companies with the business end of their idea, such as developing their market validation and market assessments, or helping with business cases.”
The MBioEnt is an interdisciplinary research masters degree that blends science, business and law to give science graduates the skills to move with confidence in the business world. The goal is to help scientists understand and protect the value of their research.
Students learn about translating breakthrough discoveries into high value products, strategies for commercialisation, intellectual property law, valuation tools, and how to write a business plan. They also complete a six-month industry internship to put their skills into practice.
“The first year, we go through the fundamentals such as accounting, marketing, finance and some commercial law. In the second year, we get into commercialisation, which is what we do the ABI,” says Liam Rollo.
He came to the MBioEnt after finding he didn’t really enjoy lab work as an undergraduate, but he did enjoy working with scientists. However, he was interested in genetics and immunology, and it was ABI that showed him where this could go – medtech software.
This introduced Rollo to Auckland UniServices and one of their partner companies where he’s been working on market validation. “There’s no real typical day. I can be doing anything, from reading market research reports to researching regulatory requirements, but most of my time is spent looking at marketing – how many devices were sold in X market in one year and how much of that market might this company be able to take.”
Rollo’s end-goal is to get into venture capital, and he began that journey in February, working for a venture capital firm. He credits the ABI as setting him up with the right skills to get him into this new job. “When we go through as undergraduates, we don’t get taught anything about commercialisation. This programme turns research into a purpose.”
Rohit Bhat (left) prefers the pre-seed stage, where he can have an active role in helping leading edge medtech advances, including product development. “This is an opportunity that’s hard to get anywhere else because of issues from patents to confidentiality; this puts me into a role where I can influence how the future plays out.
His interest was piqued by his professor who talked about it as an opportunity. “If you like business and you’re doing a science course, then you can merge the two in a way that’s lucrative and interesting. That got my interest.”
Bhat says it’s not an environment for everyone. “You must be comfortable being the idiot in the room because every single interaction is going to be with people who are experts in their field. You must be willing to learn; it’s not an environment for egos. If you take the opposite approach and accept that you know very little, you will come out having learnt a lot.”
Dixon says the combination of science and business is key, and they’re still learning. “This is the first time we’ve done this, but the beauty of the CMDT is that it’s a national programme and now that we’ve done our own ‘proof of concept’ we can reach out to some of the other programmes.”