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An Interview with Susan Windham-Bannister
Translational research: the driver of innovation

Though a relatively new conference, ON Helix brings together people from different backgrounds to explore the opportunities and barriers of translational research. The conference provides a common ground for industry experts to share unique insights and views on translating research into innovative health treatments, as well as network and form collaborations.

Today we spoke with Dr. Sue Windham-Bannister, one of the keynote speakers for this year’s ON Helix. Based in Boston, she was recognised by the Boston Globe as one of the ’10 Most Influential Women in Biotech’ in 2013. Dr Windham-Bannister completed a doctorate in health policy and management, after which she was a strategy consultant for life science companies, helping them develop market access and competitive strategies. After almost 40 years of this, she became the founding executive of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC), where she was responsible for the strategy and implementation of the Life Sciences Initiative. The MLSC is a state-funded investment organisation for all sectors of the Commonwealth’s life sciences community, and her role here involved formulating the investment strategy for the $1B fund that was proposed and signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick. She currently serves as Managing Partner of Biomedical Innovation Advisors LLC, and President and CEO of Biomedical Growth Strategies, LLC, where she continues her advisory work to industry, academia and life sciences clusters. In addition to her consulting, she also sits on a number of boards and frequently speaks at a number of conferences globally. Dr. Sue Windham-Bannister is very interested in working with different geographies to see what investment they need to grow both high performing life sciences ecosystems and robust life sciences economies, and today we had the pleasure of asking her a few questions about her work and stance in the industry.

Can you tell us a bit about what drove your interest in translational research?

I have always been very interested in exploring how we can put research into practice, and bring new technologies into the market. Through my work in industry, I began to understand the process of innovation and the challenges in bringing new products to market, especially for large companies who are increasingly drawing on a pipeline of translational research that is external to their companies. This is why industry and academic partnerships are so valuable and why large companies value being part of communities that are active in entrepreneurship – they really need to collaborate with young companies and academics doing cutting edge work. And in turn, large companies become invaluable partners and anchor life sciences ecosystems.

How do advances in translational science impact your day to day advisory work?

My main focus is to help implement the right infrastructure and culture for collaboration that will see us bring better therapies, cures and treatments for patients. Patients are the central focus of all this activity and there are so many diseases which we don’t yet understand. It is this challenge of bringing better treatments to patients which drives me each day. Translational research is really the starting point of innovation: it provides the basis for new treatments (or even cures) for patients, has the potential to be monetised, and creates economic value and opportunity for our society. I would like to see more funders and academic research institutions around the world encourage and reward translational – as well as basic – science. I also would like to see more collaboration across disciplines and between academia and industry.

Have you attended ON Helix in the past?

I have attended once, so this will be my second time. I’ve known Harriet as a colleague and friend for a long time, and I’m honoured and thrilled that she invited me to be keynote speaker this year. I am so impressed by all that she has accomplished!

Can you tell us a bit about what you plan to discuss in your keynote address at ON Helix?

Certainly! I’m planning to take a very hands-on approach in my address where I will share a case study of the Massachusetts life sciences initiative, why the state undertook this, the investment framework and how we implemented the strategy in terms of investment tools and targets. Important priorities for the MLSC initiative were investments in translational research partnerships, research and business accelerating facilities, entrepreneurship and collaboration. So I’m hoping to share some insights and ideas that will be useful and practical.

What are you hoping to take away/learn from ON Helix?

Since I am based and working in the US, I’m hoping to learn more about what my colleagues are doing in the UK and Europe, including any opportunities for collaboration. We have many challenges to address and it will take our collective knowledge to solve them. As I like to say, when you’re talking about innovation 1+1=11!

To find out more from Dr. Windham-Bannister, attend her keynote address during ON Helix 2016.

Contact Polly or Nadia to learn more about ON Helix.

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