With 100 online attendees, 180 in-person participants, 15 posters, 16 technologies, and 45 speakers, the 2023 Technology Showcase offered a whirlwind look into biotechnology innovation happening at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (FNL) and National Cancer Institute (NCI).
“This is a valuable event for showing potential partners what we can do and making connections,” Maggie Scully, Ph.D., director of the FNL Partnership Development Office said. “We met many interested partners at the event. In fact, we have already started working on agreements with two local biotech companies we met at this year’s event.”
“This event has become not just a conference, but a celebration and recognition of all the great research and clinical work being done to address a terrible disease impacting so many,” said Michael Salgaller, Ph.D., a supervisory specialist at the NCI Technology Transfer Center. “We are in the midst of follow-up with various stakeholders to build upon the agreement discussions already underway.”
A Need for Partners
The event highlighted how partners are critical to enabling NCI and FNL to achieve their mission of helping cancer patients.
“We don’t take on a [drug] project unless we intend on moving it into patients or dropping it off to collaborators,” James Hodge, Ph.D., of the NCI Center for Immuno-Oncology. “NCI is not going to take a drug to market… we have to partner with somebody.”
In his keynote address, NCI Center for Cancer Research (CCR) Director Tom Misteli, Ph.D., stressed the importance of partners to CCR. He explained that CCR produces a patent nearly every week, but those patents would languish without industry collaborators to bring them to the market and to patients.
“Commercial partnerships are incredibly important to us for our mission… but what’s actually even more important for us to make progress is our patients,” Misteli said as he introduced patient advocate Jamie Troil Goldfarb.
Goldfarb is a stage IV melanoma cancer survivor thanks to a NCI clinical trial using tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) pioneered by NCI’s Steven Rosenberg, M.D., Ph.D. She stressed that her story is a success not just because she is now cancer free, but because a company has licensed the TIL therapy that saved her life, and it is now working to bring the therapy to the market so it can save more lives.
“This is ultimately the goal of these partnerships,” Scully said, “to expedite hope for patients.”
A highlight of the event was having Larry Matherly, Ph.D., of Wayne State University School of Medicine visit from Detroit to serve on a panel with his collaborator, FNL’s Serguei Kozlov, Ph.D., of the Center for Advanced Preclinical Research. Since 2020, the two have been working on an innovative metabolism study in a pancreatic mouse model.
A theme of the panel was how both organizations benefited and learned from each other’s expertise. The study leverages Matherly’s expertise in cancer metabolism and Kozlov’s expertise in genetically engineered mice. The joint research project is enabled by a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA), which Matherly noted “sounds ominous, but it was painless.”
When Vladimir Popov, Ph.D., FNL’s chief innovation officer, who was moderating the panel, asked what the downside of working with a National Laboratory is, Matherly replied, “I don’t see a downside. I look at how it is moving the science forward.”
Kozlov explained that working on the metabolic target was a new experience for his team, and he learned a great deal from the collaboration. He plans to leverage his new knowledge to further optimize his cancer models for clinical testing of similar compounds.
Engaging the Audience
To engage the target audience of companies, investors, entrepreneurs, and technology scouts, the event included multiple panels relevant to commercializing biomedical technology.
“Our panel was a great team effort that produced practical and useful information on support from foundations and traditional sources of support from the banking, financial, and business communities for those conducting research on cancer treatments,” said Tom Thomson of the Maryland Tech Council who moderated the “Traditional and Foundation Sources of Support” panel. The panel included a lineup of experts representing those communities.
An Ongoing Success
The Technology Showcase planning team continues to reimagine the event since it was first envisioned as part of the Spring Research Festival. This year it featured its first poster pitch competition organized by the NCI Technology Transfer Ambassador’s Program. The audience voted to select the top three posters.
The annual event—which is in itself a successful partnership between FNL, NCI, City of Frederick Department of Economic Development, Frederick County Office of Economic Development, Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer, and TEDCO (Maryland Technology Development Corporation)—will return on Wednesday, September 4, 2024.
Victoria Brun is a partnership project manager in the Frederick National Laboratory Center for Innovation and Strategic Partnerships (CISP), where she provides project management support across the office’s broad portfolio of collaborative projects. Among its functions, CISP establishes the partnerships and collaborations among Frederick National Laboratory scientists and external researchers in government, academia, industry, and the nonprofit research sector.