The VIC Fellows Program provides an opportunity for individuals with relevant expertise and interest to learn how to identify and evaluate promising innovations from global sources. We are pleased to highlight the members of the 2022-2023 class of Fellows in our ongoing series of interviews, such as this recent discussion with Matthew Leming, PhD.
Please tell us about yourself and your background.
I am a proud Kansas native and KU alum who now serves as a strategic advisor for healthcare focused startup companies. I have 10 years of experience in basic science research with 10 peer-reviewed publications. This is complimented with nearly 10 years of direct healthcare startup-focused project management and technology transfer experience. This experience was gained at high profile institutions such as (1) the University of Notre Dame, where I received a PhD in Biology (2) the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where I did my postdoctoral training and subsequently worked in tech transfer, and, (3) the Texas Medical Center Accelerator, a program that is rated silver by the Accelerator Seed Rankings Project. Along the process, I had the opportunity to sit on every side of the table with respect to entrepreneurship (1) as an inventor/founder (2) as a representative of a venture fund, providing diligence reporting and technology assessments (3) in a tech transfer office, producing invention disclosures and developing plans for licensing/commercialization (4) as a service provider in the TMC Accelerator strategy team and as an independent consultant. I am fortunate to have such a breadth of experience in commercialization projects ranging from academic to commercial translation, mobile health platforms, medical devices, and drug discovery. My passion truly lies in the field of commercialization of medical innovations.
What made you decide to become a VIC Fellow?
I consider my research contributions to have been focused on the advancement of scientific knowledge. In the past, academia often used the scientific process to achieve milestones that are generally laid out in terms of knowledge acquisition. These benchmarks are not what I would consider to have real world applications, in spite of how they are often presented on paper. Occasionally, such projects develop real world applications, but they all serve the same general tenant: Knowledge for knowledge's sake. While a noble pursuit, such an amorphous metric is generally unappealing to me.
Over the past decade, there has been an exciting push toward translating technologies from academia to commercial applications. These efforts have spurred scores of technological advancements that enrich our lives that we now take for granted. Such contributions have the potential to make a broader impact. Having been contributing to this field for the past decade I immediately recognized that the VIC philosophy and approach fill in a much needed gap of academic to commercial translation. This was something that I very much wanted to be a part of.
With your experiences in the life sciences ecosystems, what do you see for the future of health innovation in the US?
In short, the key to success here lies within ecosystem development. Let me explain. Academic to commercial translation of technology is a critical component to advancing health, safety, and quality of life. To the delight of and support for academics, billions of dollars a year are spent, in this country alone, to support academic research. Throughout my career, to date, I have been able to learn firsthand how this process takes place. Typically, this research is designed with broad and high-reaching ambitions. Unfortunately, the vast majority of end game scenarios targeted never come to fruition. This is for many reasons; however, the gap that is directly addressed by VIC became clear to me as I served as Program Manager for Brain Health and Drug Discovery at the University of Pittsburgh. Universities have finite capacity and often lack the skills to be able to support the transition of promising technology out their doors, let alone support its growth.
The growth of a startup requires a complex web of operators, fundraisers, and partnerships. Such an ecosystem is difficult to build and maintain. During my time working at the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute, I learned exactly what needs to go into such an ecosystem for it to be successful. After working with many healthcare focused startups, I was able to experience and learn from the struggles of an early stage health tech company first hand and how having experienced partners can be a critically important component.
How does VIC support ecosystem development?
It is in this way that I believe the VIC model demonstrates its potential. As a vested partner VIC offers a great service not only to the researcher, but to the university, and broader society by supporting the growth of these technologies that may otherwise not have been able to venture outside of the ivory tower.
Perhaps more importantly, the VIC leadership team has been able to create what is essentially a virtual ecosystem. Famously, many investors of old would refuse to consider a deal if they “couldn’t drive to it”. What was once a frustration of many entrepreneurs and startup advocates who didn’t live in the Bay Area is becoming increasingly a non-issue. The VIC model, that in my view supports a virtual ecosystem, while initially successful has only proven to define the zeitgeist of post-pandemic healthcare innovation.
Any words of wisdom for folks interested in applying to the VIC Fellows program?
As I mentioned previously, I have had the opportunity to have sat on every side of the entrepreneurial table, so I can speak with some confidence that the VIC model is an incredibly useful tool for academic to commercial translation. If you are looking not only to offer your training, experiences, and network to the advancement of VIC but also to be a part of a broader entity that utilizes an effective ecosystem to support such a critically important and noble effort as is tech entrepreneurship then I recommend you apply.