Making a Good Match

Innovative partnerships throughout Johns Hopkins will help fuel biomedical discoveries.

Published in Dome - June 2015

At Johns Hopkins, our research has produced many world-changing discoveries, ranging from identification of the three strains of polio virus to detection of the first restriction enzyme, which allowed scientists to manipulate DNA, essentially forming the basis of the entire biotech industry.

One thing we have not been known for, historically, is our entrepreneurial activity. There, we lag behind some of our peers, like Stanford and MIT, where new startups seem to sprout daily.

But we’ve been steadily changing that by taking steps to strengthen our innovation ecosystem. We are working to foster an environment where people are encouraged and supported to translate their discoveries into real-world applications that have tangible benefit for patients. 

Scientific collaboration leads to innovation. We are helping our school of medicine investigators partner with the incredible thinkers elsewhere at Johns Hopkins. To encourage these connections, we provide early-stage funding to worthy projects springing from more than one division of the university and host scientific “speed dating” events that act as cross-school matchmakers. During these lively encounters, researchers share ideas and questions about their work in a series of short, one-on-one conversations with colleagues trained in other disciplines (see cover story).

This year, investigators from the school of medicine’s Department of Pathology have used this format to find potential collaborators from the Whiting School of Engineering and the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). Pathologist Timothy Amukele, for example, forged a connection with APL engineers to create an unmanned courier system for transporting blood samples from remote locations to diagnostic laboratories. And the APL’s David Silberberg is repurposing his group’s data science research and development to help pathologist Matthew Olson identify people most at risk for thyroid cancer.

Another way we’re encouraging the flow of ideas among scholar-inventors is through FastForward, the innovation hub that has expanded to the East Baltimore campus from its original site near Homewood.  Located in the Rangos Building, FastForward East provides startups with affordable lab and office space. It’s a place where creative passion — which our faculty and students possess in spades — comes together with helpful resources and tailored services to fuel the development of new technologies.

These efforts are starting to bear fruit. In 2014, the university secured 92 new U.S. patents and received 454 invention disclosures from faculty members, approximately 85 percent of which came from the school of medicine. Additionally, there were 13 new startups formed based on Johns Hopkins technologies.

The field of medicine owes many of its major health victories to imaginative, interdisciplinary collaborations and to joint efforts between industry and academia. Since 1991, research and development at universities have yielded more than 130 new drugs and devices. The innovative discovery programs that are currently underway at Johns Hopkins will continue to build upon this tradition.