Research shows the success of a bacterial community depends on its shape.
Two MIT areas have teamed up to help close a gap between good science and good business - a gap that has often prevented important discoveries from making it from the life science laboratory to the public marketplace.
The Biomedical Enterprise Program, the result of a collaboration between the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) and the Sloan School of Management, exposes students - some with solid life science backgrounds, others with extensive experience in business management - to an integrated curriculum focused on the complex process of product development and commercialization in the health care industry.
The goal, according to program founders and advisers, is to create a new generation of leaders for biomedical enterprises.
"For 30 years, HST has been about integrating science, medicine and engineering, but we've ignored the business part, which is a very necessary piece," said Professor Martha Gray, who directs HST and worked with Sloan School counterparts to develop the new program. "The Biomedical Enterprise Program will add that component. And while the cultures of business and life sciences/medicine are fundamentally different, BEP's integrated approach puts these cultures together in a coherent way that demystifies and explains them."
Impetus for BEP came from senior private-sector members of the HST advisory council, said Gray. They saw the need for life scientists to better understand business and for businesspeople to better understand biomedicine. Rather than just add business courses to HST's medical, science and engineering mix, they envisioned a new program that could more fully integrate biomedical and business curricula.
Within a year, HST and Sloan were actively developing curriculum and other program components. By the second year, the Sloan-HST consortium officially launched BEP, which just admitted its first five students. The goal is a maximum enrollment of 30 students.
Graduates of the two-year program receive dual master's degrees, one each from Sloan and HST. Applicants, who must be admitted to both Sloan and HST, must have strong foundations in quantitative science and proven interest in biomedical entrepreneurship. The over-30 average age of the first group of students reflects the experience level sought by BEP.
All of this year's applicants have at least a bachelor's degree in some area of the life sciences and some business experience, ranging from multiple internships to 20 years of experience. "As we proceed, we'll attract entrepreneurs who see this as the go-to area, and businesspeople with sufficient science in their background who realize they need to tool up in this area," said David Weber, director of MIT's Management of Technology program.
Professor James Utterback, faculty chair of the Management of Technology Program, said the public is the ultimate winner from such collaboration. "What's been missing is an efficient way of translating discoveries into commercial products to ensure that what you discover in the clinic or at the bedside becomes available to improve health care," he said. "This program helps close this circle."
That's especially important for regions such as greater Boston that already have a strong biotech industry.
In addition to advancing health care, the biomedical industry is a significant driver for economic development, said Frank R. Landsberger, BEP's executive director. "These companies have a large economic multiplicative effect. Since biomedical product companies are characterized by high-salaried employees, every dollar spent by a biotechnology company generates a significant multiplier in terms of local economic activity. This allows high-cost societies such as ours to be competitive in the world."
That's one of the reasons the new program maintains a consortium relationship with the University of Cambridge in England as part of the Cambridge-MIT Institute. The University of Cambridge is also moving to integrate bioscience and business curricula, and the programs in the two Cambridges will exchange both students and faculty.
The foundation of the Biomedical Enterprise Program is three overlapping areas of curriculum.
The management stream draws from Sloan's executive curriculum and master's of business administration courses, including subjects such as applied economics, marketing management, technology strategy and entrepreneurship.
The HST stream is based on HST's traditional curriculum, covering a range of biomedical science and technology courses, including subjects that develop a fluency in the language of medicine and deeper understanding of such key life science areas as molecular, cellular and systems physiology and pathophysiology.
The integrative stream brings together management, science and medical elements to highlight the issues that arise in these intersecting areas in any biomedical enterprise. Topics include ethics, clinical trials, clinical market penetration, regulatory issues, statistical analysis and biotechnology company development.
Landsberger, who has extensive biomedical experience in both the private sector and academia, said many of the MBAs now going to biotech or pharmaceutical companies lack this kind of coherent understanding.
"Conventional MBA programs don't deal with how to manage science and business when the measure of success is in decades," he said. "They need to know how to manage the uncertainty of the scientific and regulatory processes while raising money and managing an infrastructure that is fundamentally different from making chips or software."
At the same time, "we often hear about the life science inventor who says, 'I can do it all,' but who in fact lacks the management skills required for a lab or division to fully succeed" in turning a scientific development into a business success, Landsberger said.
Students were heavily involved in developing the new program, said Utterback. "The students have been the firmest voices for integration. They understand the need for a program that makes them fluent in both cultures."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 2, 2002.