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MIT launches Center for Biomedical Innovation

In the wake of such major blows to the pharmaceutical industry as the recent FDA announcement that many popular pain medications pose serious health risks, MIT has announced it will bring major players from business, government and academia together to work to transform the industry.

Starting this summer, the MIT Center for Biomedical Innovation (CBI) will begin developing ways to more efficiently and safely move advances in the life sciences from the laboratory into actual public health use. The center will build on MIT's special strengths across the disciplines of science, engineering and management, while also drawing upon expertise from Harvard Medical School.

"At MIT, we have a tradition of collaborating across disciplines to work on important challenges. This is an industry under siege, and it is reacting enthusiastically to CBI," said Richard Schmalensee, dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management. "We don't necessarily promise to be an industry ally, but we offer the promise of neutral ground and unbiased expertise."

Beginning with a two-day "All Stakeholder Summit" set for June 16-17, the center aims to create a "safe harbor" in which major players across the biomedical spectrum--from medical researchers to federal regulators and payers, to experts in finance and marketing--will be able to better appreciate each other's concerns and needs. Serious challenges created by the recent recalls of widely utilized pharmaceutical products make it especially important to break through traditional "silo thinking," said Dr. Frank Douglas, the former executive vice president and chief scientific officer of Aventis SA, who will lead the new center.

"It is very clear to me that this industry faces serious issues," said Douglas. "The productivity of large pharmaceutical innovation has decreased. We lack the ability to properly predict the side effects of new compounds, and we don't have good ways to monitor and assess them once they are in the market. Pricing models have become untenable. So has the 'blockbuster' mentality. Across the board, a lot of old models really need to be examined, and CBI is where it can happen. We will bring together stakeholders with the common objective to find solutions that will transform the industry."

The center will also focus on emerging biotechnology and medical device issues. Other faculty co-directors include Professors Ernst Berndt from MIT Sloan, Steven Tannenbaum from biological engineering and Anthony Sinskey from biology and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

CBI is lining up funding from a variety of public and private sources. Douglas, who earned international recognition as a leader in innovation in pharmaceutical research and development, said he chose CBI over other attractive professional options. "It's hard to find a place like the Boston-Cambridge area, with its large hospitals, large life sciences sector, large insurers, clinical research organizations, and institutions such as Harvard and MIT that are excited about working together. No other center has the potential of CBI."

"The CBI has a bold ambition: to make unimagined strides in leading-edge health care, both for patients and society," said MIT Dean of Engineering Thomas Magnanti. "I am delighted that engineering faculty, students and researchers will join forces with others across MIT and in industry and government to address one of the world's most pressing concerns."

MIT Dean of Science Robert Silbey said people involved in scientific, engineering, management and other aspects of the life sciences industry often fail to fully communicate with each other. "CBI is a way to get individuals interested in the science or the engineering talking to people about policy and management," he said. "The real beneficiaries of these kinds of conversations will ultimately be the health-care public."

Added MIT Provost Robert Brown: "By integrating scientific, clinical, economic and regulatory perspectives, CBI has the potential to translate biomedical innovation much more effectively from laboratory to patient."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 4, 2005 (download PDF).

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