MIT Sloan School of Management News Briefs — July 2005

Frank Douglas:
MIT Center for Biomedical Innovation offers “safe harbor” for industry, regulators and others to develop solutions

Frank DouglasMIT this month officially launched a unique program to bring together major players from industry, government, and academia to develop ways to more efficiently and safely move life sciences advances from the laboratory into actual public health use. The MIT Center for Biomedical Innovation (CBI) will build on MIT's special strengths across the disciplines of science, engineering, and management, while also drawing upon expertise from Harvard Medical School.

The Center aims to create a “safe harbor” in which major players across the biomedical spectrum — from medical researchers to federal regulators and payers, to experts in finance and marketing — will be able to better appreciate each other's concerns and needs. Serious challenges created by the recent recalls of widely utilized pharmaceutical products make it especially important to break through traditional “silo thinking,” said Frank Douglas, MD, Phd, former executive vice president and chief scientific officer of Aventis SA, who will lead the new center.

“It is very clear to me that this industry faces serious issues,” Douglas continued. “The productivity of large pharmaceutical innovation has decreased. We lack the ability to properly predict the side effects of new compounds, and we don't have good ways to monitor and assess them once they are in the market. Pricing models have become untenable. So has the 'blockbuster' mentality. Across the board, a lot of old models really need to be examined, and CBI is where it can happen. We will bring together stake holders with the common objective to find solutions that will transform the industry.”

The Center will also focus on emerging biotechnology and medical device issues as well as the major challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry. Other faculty codirectors include Professors Ernst Berndt from MIT Sloan, Steven Tannenbaum from Biological Engineering, and Anthony Sinskey from Biology and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

CBI is lining up funding from a variety of public and private sources. Douglas, who earned international recognition as a leader in innovation in pharmaceutical research and development, said he chose CBI over other attractive professional options. “It's hard to find a place like the Boston-Cambridge area, with its large hospitals, large life sciences sector, large insurers, clinical research organizations, and institutions such as Harvard and MIT that are excited about working together. No other center has the potential of CBI.”

The MIT Sloan School of Management is excited about the CBI, said MIT Sloan Dean Richard Schmalensee. “At MIT, we have a tradition of collaborating across disciplines to work on important challenges. This is an industry under siege, and it is reacting enthusiastically to CBI. We don't necessarily promise to be an industry ally, but we offer the promise of neutral ground and unbiased expertise.”

“The CBI has a bold ambition: to make unimagined strides in leading-edge health care, both for patients and society,” said MIT Dean of Engineering Thomas Magnanti. “I am delighted that engineering faculty, students, and researchers will join forces with others across MIT and in industry and government to address one of the world's most pressing concerns.”

MIT Dean of Science Robert Silbey said people involved in scientific, engineering, management, and other aspects of the life sciences industry often fail to fully communicate with each other. “CBI is a way to get individuals interested in the science or the engineering talking to people about policy and management,” he said. “The real beneficiaries of these kinds of conversations will ultimately be the health care public.”

Added MIT Provost Robert Brown: “By integrating scientific, clinical, economic, and regulatory perspectives, CBI has the potential to translate biomedical innovation much more effectively from laboratory to patient.”