Valorization in person
What does it mean for a scientist to valorize the outcome of his research? As a researcher and Oncode Investigator who has recently co-founded Dutch start-up company Cyclomics, which has developed a fast, low-cost, point-of-care diagnostic kit for the detection and sequencing of circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA), Jeroen de Ridder (UMC Utrecht) is certainly the right person to answer the question.
Jeroen de Ridder
Oncode Investigator - UMC Utrecht
From Scientist to Entrepreneur – an Interview with Jeroen de Ridder
“After my research yielded new scientific insights, I was confronted with a dilemma. It is one thing to do research, analyse the data, draw conclusions from it and publish this new knowledge in a journal for peers, but how does the community - or even one single cancer patient – benefit in any way from this effort? I had to admit they would not benefit unless I took a next step. And I did, but I definitely needed a ‘pull’ to get me convinced of the potential of our results to develop a new diagnostic tool. Oncode’s Valorization Team gave me that ‘pull’ and really supported us in carrying through with the idea. And in the process, they helped change my mindset from purely academic to entrepreneurial.”
How is this mindset different?
“For an entrepreneur, scientific details are much less important. What is important is that the final product solves an actual problem and that it fits into the current routine diagnostic workflow for instance. But switching from a purely scientific approach to this is challenging. And all of a sudden you find yourself in a world that requires skills and competences you don't have. For example, you have to protect your intellectual property through patents, you have to actively seek parties that are interested in exploiting this intellectual property in some way or start a company to exploit it yourself”.
Did the Valorization Team help with that too?
“Yes, they streamlined negotiations with UMC Utrecht about licensing of the intellectual property, managing conflicts of interest and all the other issues around these matters. Unlike in the USA, the valorization process is still under active development in many ways in the Netherlands and both the scientists and the academic institutes lack experience. And I feel the Dutch academic institutes get cold feet when it comes to valorization because of this. The Oncode Valorization Team helps speed up the discussions and negotiations between start-ups and their ‘academic cradle’. And they also used their network to bring us into contact with scientists who have already walked this path, with financial experts that know how to prepare funding rounds, etcetera”.
What is important is that the final product solves an actual problem and that it fits into the current routine diagnostic workflow for instance.
What does the future look like?
“It has become a habit now to ask myself before I start designing a new research project what real-world problem could be solved by doing that research. Solving an academic question is not the sole and ultimate goal anymore. I want my research to also have practical value for patients. And I must be an exception to the rule that most scientists stay focused on their scientific work after setting up a company. At the moment, I find it quite fascinating and attractive to combine my role in the company with my academic career. I can well imagine that in a few years I will return to focus on science with the intention of developing new inventions that can be valorized. In the end, it is important that the company has a team that includes both scientists and business-minded people who work closely together and stimulate synergy between science and business.”
Jeroen de Ridder reveals more about how Oncode adds value to his work in a short interview you can watch here.