Bench-to-Bedside Biomedical Innovations

I’ve written previously about the fantastic extracurriculars in the BU community. As far as the academics themselves, we’re totally confined to legal studies, right? No. You can actually cross-register with almost any school on campus. It is however up to you to consider how future would-be employers will evaluate your decision to eschew Trusts, Wills, and Estates in favor of three credits of 16th century pirate lore or whatever course description most delights you. Maybe you’re better off auditing that. BUT! There are some classes that are designed to be interdisciplinary, and actually will help you build incredibly useful skills supplementing your legal education.

One such class is ‘Bench-to-Bedside: Biomedical Innovations,’ or B2B as I came to refer to it in shorthand. It is offered through the School of Management but includes bioengineering, medical, and clinical investigation students in addition to MBAs and JDs. The course discussed the legal, business, and technical implications of translating new technologies into biomedical products and the many hurdles a would-be tech start-up has to clear. Each week we read a case study on a different product or company, and frequently speakers active in the field, from patent attorneys to venture capitalists, would come in for guest lectures.

All this was very informative, of course, but a huge chunk of the course was interactive: the class split into groups, with every graduate program represented by one or two students. We were assigned real technologies currently under development at MIT, the Forsyth Institute, and even Boston University itself. (The breakdown of students from different disciplines was somewhat unbalanced in that there were only three law students enrolled and six different groups. The professor made a particular point of emphasizing how much each team would appreciate having someone capable of handling patent law. As soon as it was time to form groups, I was swamped with team invites.  It was like being the belle of the ball.)  In the ten years the course has been offered, quite a few groups have continued their involvement with the projects after the class concluded to enter and win business planning competitions. Some have even formed actual legitimate start-up companies around the innovations they were working with. It became apparent fairly early on that some significant technical limitations would prevent that from becoming a reality for my team’s project, so we did ultimately have to give the project a ‘kill’ recommendation, but we walked through the steps of tech start-up anyway for education’s sake.

Throughout the semester we assessed the scientific and funding issues of the products and processes (my particular group had a new diagnostic test) and the likelihood of success of a venture based on that innovation. This meant learning more about price analysis, antigens, funding schemata, and FDA regulations than I’d ever anticipated having cause to learn, as well as a fair bit of trial-by-fire for my tentative grasp on the formalities of patent law. I delivered an ‘elevator pitch,’ wherein I role-played describing the entire product and requesting funding in a mere 90 seconds to an investor with dubious interest in speaking with me. And I gave not one but two team Powerpoint presentations (or ‘slide decks’ as MBAs seem to call them) on subjects I’d known next to nothing about. (My group and I decided that since everyone else had hard science backgrounds, and I was the closest we had to a layperson, that I should explain the innovation itself, as well as its Intellectual Property status, under the theory that if I could explain it in a way that made sense to myself, anyone would be able to understand. This was a good theory, but did mean I had to master tongue twisters like “urine-based antigen detection multiplex assay.”)   I collaborated with teammates from four different schools and three different countries, who were actually lovely people, but by the end of meetings that would sometimes stretch until 11pm at night, we frequently parted with, “Y’all are great, but I really hope I don’t have to see you again this week.” It was a dramatic amount of work, and much of it was outside of my comfort zone, but the takeaways were well worthwhile. And I know so, so much about tuberculosis now.

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