Disenchanted with academic technology transfer, two business-savvy biopharma scientists set out to bridge the bench-to-business gap in two ways: by attempting to satisfy the academy's desire for insider industry knowledge and by promoting the private sector's interest in promising academic achievements. In 2006, graduate students Brigham Hyde and David Greenwald established the Tufts Biomedical Business Club, a student organization at the university that continues to educate members on how basic science knowledge can be applied to drug development as well as on the business and financial issues of the broader healthcare industry.
Hyde says he and Greenwald co-founded the club, which they modeled after an existing group at Harvard, to not only spare themselves the weekly trip to Cambridge for meetings, but also to share an understanding of the business of science with the Tufts student population at its medical campus in Boston. "I'm an advocate, in general, of educating scientists about the business world — not so much that they should all go into business, but there's a big gap in terms of their understanding of the industry they're actually in," Hyde says. "We had both experienced, at the bench, some of the frustration of trying to start a company out of a technology."
On the other hand, Hyde and his colleague realized that actually "getting innovation out of academic science and into businesses' hands, where it belongs to some extent, is ... something that could be made more efficient," Hyde says.
And so, in 2008, he and Greenwald — both PhD candidates at the time — launched a biopharma IP brokerage company called Relay Technology Management. The initial idea was that they would scout promising science and technology from the crypts of academic campuses and hand-deliver them to funding partners and investment firms interested in acquiring them. "We had some success, but ultimately we were trying to drive on a more scalable business model," Hyde says.
After defending his thesis and completing three months of postdoctoral hematology research at Boston University Medical Center, Hyde — who minored in business management as an undergrad — was hired as an equity research analyst at the Boston-based investment firm Cowen and Company. While at Cowen, he stepped down as Relay's president, but remained on the company's board. For Hyde, his early experiences as an analyst were primarily "about understanding how businesses work and trying to get a sense of the industry I was in and what factors mattered," he says.
Now back to working full-time at the firm he co-founded as chief operating officer and director of product development, Hyde is putting his knowledge of those factors — licensing activity, patenting information, scientific trends, and so on — to good use. Since transitioning from its initial IP brokerage model to a software-as-a-service approach, Relay Technology Management now informs life science investors' decisions by putting science back into the business, generating quantitative metrics to characterize the biopharma industry.
"It's really hard for investors to put money behind an early-stage idea ... because there are so many unknowns, and it's very hard to evaluate one idea against another," Hyde says. "So we try to create an information source, to put more information behind those unknowns and ... use analytics and machine learning to actually try and predict which ones [ideas] are going to be valuable."
Relay's approach offers investors an alternative to hiring outside experts, who — whatever their personal and professional backgrounds — are human, and therefore carry certain biases. As Hyde puts it: "I worked on mitochondrial biology. I'm convinced the cure for every disease is related to a mitochondrial drug. Totally biased." Similarly, he adds, a consultant who has worked with a particular kinase will more often than not show some degree of bias for or against it in relation to some other molecule. With software and data analysts, Hyde says Relay aims to "take some of that bias out" to provide its clients a quantitative and, ostensibly, more objective view.
Starting up an industry analytics company has been a rewarding but challenging experience, Hyde says. "It's awesome to be part of a new venture — in the trenches with a group of people that know you're all at risk, but you're all buying the dream." Another plus, he adds, is exposure to an expansive scientific purview. "In a research career, you may spend a lot of time on one area," he says, whereas his current post at Relay allows him to "touch and feel what's going on across a number of industries."
Financially speaking, though, it's a risky career choice. "We're lucky to have funding and some good customers, but you never know next year how our cash will be," he says. Overall, there's a balance between the risks and the benefits, Hyde says. "But, at the end of the day, if you're the type of person who's into the excitement, it can be a great way to go."
For students and postdocs interested in life science equity research and industry analysis — or any other career outside of academia — Hyde says that where there's a will to learn more about a new profession, there's a way. Like most everything in life, that knowledge "is not going to be hand-delivered to you. But there are resources out there," Hyde says. Inasmuch as "there are a lot of things you could do with a PhD that they don't explain to you at all while getting the education," he adds, "there are lots of ways to learn and people to help. Go get it — it's out there to be had."
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