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Tech-Transfer Services Startup Hopes to ‘Relay’ Biomed Techs from Lab to Market

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Brigham Hyde
Co-founder, President, Director of Licensing
Relay Technology Management
NAME: Brigham Hyde
 
POSITION: Co-founder, president, and director of licensing, Relay Technology Management; co-director, medical diagnostic division, RQ Bioscience
 
BACKGROUND: Consultant, Leerink & Swan, 2008; PhD candidate, Tufts University School of Medicine, 2004-present; BS, chemistry, Northeastern University
 
A pair of graduate students from Tufts University has founded a biomedical technology-transfer services firm to address what they perceive as inefficiencies in the academic tech-transfer process.
 
Their goal of the startup, Relay Technology Management, is to identify promising biomedical technologies from universities with understaffed or underfunded tech-transfer offices, initially in the New England and North Atlantic region, and match them with prospective investors or industry partners.
 
Based in Boston, the shop was co-founded in May by Brigham Hyde, a PhD student at the Tufts University School of Medicine, and David Greenwald, a graduate student at Tufts’ Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, after the pair won a $50,000 business plan competition from the school for their idea.
 
Hyde, who serves as Relay’s director of licensing, and Greenwald, Relay’s director of technology, are currently seeking individuals from the tech-transfer, pharma, and venture capital communities to populate the firm’s scientific advisory board.
 
In addition, Relay is seeking $1 million to $3 million in private equity to hire additional employees and build out its scientific expertise as part of a three-year operating plan designed to generate $10 million to $15 million in licensing and service-based revenues.
 
This week, BTW spoke with Hyde about the creation of Relay and its short- and long-term business plans.
 

 
How did you and David Greenwald come together to found this company, and what was your motivation?
 
Both David and I had experience with scientific startups out of academic research labs. David had experience with the US Naval Medical Hospital in Washington, DC, working on diagnostics for Dengue fever. I had experience with both research tools and diagnostics. I had some experience with a company called Molecular Cytomics, which we developed out of a lab.
 
This experience for both of us really highlighted the tech-transfer process out of the academic lab as inefficient, and that it could be done better. David and I met through the formation of the Tufts Biomedical Business Club when we were students. This was formed almost two years ago, and the idea was to combine MDs, MD/MBAs, and PhDs in an interactive group to work on different business problems.
 
This idea kind of evolved out of us saying, ‘We think there is a problem here. How do we address it?’ That business plan won the Tufts [50K Classic Business Plan Competition] in April. We also featured the company at MIT [Sloan] Bioinnovations 2008. We incorporated in May of this year, and we have three clients right now with whom we are involved in developing their technology, whether that is licensing or another route.
 
Relay’s business plan states that it is interested in developing early-stage biomedical technologies. Are there more specific areas of interest that correlate with your backgrounds?
 
Yes. We like to say that we leverage disease-specific expertise in order to identify early-stage technology that we believe will have value and be of interest to licensing partners. Then we market that to potential partners. We act as a third party. We’re not the inventors, but we filter through ideas that are out there, identify the really good ones, and then pick those to market and partner with.
 
We have disease-specific expertise. Our primary areas of expertise are metabolic disease and diabetes; pain management; ophthalmology; and genetics. Those are at this time. We’ve built out teams internally that have that expertise, and we have active databases of what is going on in those spaces, which involve all the patents we find relevant. Then we have an internal evaluation process for going through those and saying, ‘OK, this is a good idea, this is where the area is heading, et cetera.’
 
You are building a scientific advisory board. What kind of experience are you looking to add through that process?
 
We obviously want to build on our scientific base. The strength of this business model is that it is really grounded in science. This isn’t just a patent troll organization; it isn’t marketing stuff based on key words – we’re trying to find really good things and match them with the right people.
 
The people that we’re considering for our SAB at this time, which I can’t disclose, all have either academic research or industry experience in development of a certain area. We interact with all players along this game, so we’re seeking advisory members in the VC space with pharma experience; and from academic and tech transfer. It’s all part of the equation for us.
 
What kind of services or products will you offer that a university tech-transfer office can’t?
 
We are proponents of tech transfer. We are not competing with them. Our view and basis for starting this was that I think if you ask any tech-transfer manager if they could use more resources, I would think all of them would say yes. I think it’s been an undersourced thing at these universities. With the exceptions of MIT and [the] University of California, and maybe one or two others, you have these offices of five to 10 people managing a $100 million research budget and the technology that comes out of it.
 
We’re just trying to supplement what they do, and we think they’re particularly weak in two areas. One is analysis of their internal technology. They just have too much to manage. And the second is marketing of the technology itself. These are two staffing issues. They essentially don’t have the internal resources to do this. We try not to step on their toes from a negotiation sense. They’re going to have their own internal drivers for deals. All we try to do is bring things to their door.
 
Are you looking to work directly with tech-transfer offices, with individual entrepreneurial researchers, or both?
 
Both. One of our key goals in this fiscal year is to partner with an academic institution. We are currently negotiating with a few Boston-area tech-transfer offices on how to interact with them in a significant way. In addition to just picking out what we like, we are trying to partner with offices that we feel might be inefficient or understaffed, and help them develop their IP portfolios, in a way that is rewarding for them. Again, we don’t drive their licensing goals – all we do is drive deals to their doors.
 
How will Relay identify and vet these technologies? Are you hoping to gain access to the entire IP portfolios of institutions with which you partner?
 
We know that the deals in this space are largely commodity trade. Let’s talk about it stepwise. If you’re [moving out] technology from an academic institution, the interest at the next stage is going to be either from a VC or pharma if it’s developed enough. Let’s take VCs as an example. They are buying into these ideas because they think they can trade them up in about five years. It has to do with the back-end interest. Because of that you tend to see big moves.
 
I’ll use RNAi as a great example. All of a sudden RNAi becomes popular. You get licensing deals happening, VCs investing, and companies like Merck partnering with Sirna. If you look at that it was about a five-year process, or a little bit more.
 
One of the things we do is to look not just at whether this is good science, and whether it is a good patent, but we look at the field. We ask, ‘What’s going on in this space clinically?’ If you have something potentially for pain management, is it kind of hip at this point? What else is being clinically developed? Where is the competitors’ money? How much VC money has been going into this? We have kind of an internal process for doing this and how we actually rank these technologies.
 
Some of it is going to our buyers and asking what they are interested in. We’ve had some really positive interactions with pharma who have told us what they want us to bring to their doors. We’ll go back and overlay those wants with what we’ve evaluated scientifically to identify licensing opportunities.
 
Relay’s business plan says that some of the competitors in this space are ‘largely institutionally focused,’ and that Relay intends to ‘leverage strong relationships with untapped yet heavily resourced academic centers’ to avoid competing with well-established tech-transfer entities. Can you elaborate?
 
I’m not going to go to MIT and try and sign up their entire patent portfolio. Obviously if I see something of value there I will contact them and potentially license it. Right now you have a lot of people focusing on one or two institutions for all the new ideas. Really you’re missing a whole bunch of research. If you want to quantify it, you’re talking about millions of dollars of NIH funding going to places that are not MIT, and not UC. And even among those entities, there are still opportunities.
 
So when we say that they’re competitors, that’s who is doing this right now. That’s who is out there marketing ideas. We’re trying to find the stuff that might be under the radar or opportunities that need more help and development.
 
I would add that this isn’t a completely new idea. There is a publicly traded company called UTEK, and another company called Competitive Technologies. We’ve found that those companies largely have really strong relationships with one or two institutions. UTEK is a great example – they have a relationship with the University of Oxford, and with the Universities of Florida and Texas. We think that they don’t hold the whole market, and there is space for entry.
 
Do you plan to charge cash fees for services, take equity positions in startup companies, or negotiate for a portion of potential royalties, just as tech-transfer offices do?
 
It’s all three [and] it’s deal-specific. We make our money on increasing deal efficiency, so we’ll take a different position depending on the deal.
 
I’d say that of our clients right now, we have one that we’re contracted with to receive a percentage of up-front and royalties; one that we’re deriving consulting revenues from; and another one in which we were given an equity position. All three are possible. I think it depends on the stage. So far, our prominent clients have taken on the role of a startup company that came out of academia, has developed a technology to a certain point, and doesn’t have the internal funding to produce the staff to go out there and really license the idea, so they use us to match up with a developer.
 
We are also releasing a product this fall directly to VCs and pharma, in which they can use our internal expertise, particularly in the basic science, to basically buy an evaluation product. Let’s say they’re interested in a certain disease area, or are interested in placing a specific technology in a disease area – they can consult us for that, so we act as real-estate brokers here. There are buyers and sellers, and we try to match the people up. The special piece that we add is a knowledge of both networks and expertise in the field.
 
Do you anticipate being able to provide gap funding for promising technologies?
 
I think that is definitely a goal of ours. Clearly we’d like to ultimately leverage out internal expertise to identify things we’d like to develop ourselves. We’re directly interested in talking to VCs about doing that in different ways.
 
You’re initially seeking $1 million to $3 million from angel investors or VCs. How is that going so far?
 
We are in the initial stages of interaction. We have enough funding to operate at this time, and we’re operating on consulting revenues. We feel like everybody wants to take venture funding, but for us, if we can operate without it, there is no real need for us. I’m asking for it because I want to be able to engage investors on taking this to the next level, which would mean building out our internal expertise, our legal expertise, and becoming a full-fledged operation.
 
We do a lot of [out]sourcing right now, and would like to bring a lot of that [in house]. We think we can do that for a very small upfront investment. I think $1 million to $3 million is a very small investment for the potential that comes from our idea – both in terms of revenue generation, and in terms of being able to interact with these early-stage ideas. We think we offer a lot to VCs, and we’ve been courting carefully, trying to pick the right group and find someone who really sees the opportunity here for the long term.

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