Entrepreneurship Certificate Program Targets Substance Use Disorders

A $1.6 million grant will fund efforts to train basic scientists in the development and commercialization of products to prevent and treat substance use disorders.

Published in Brain Wise - BrainWise Winter 2023

The area of substance use disorders is ripe for innovation, says Johns Hopkins behavioral pharmacologist Kelly Dunn. With a five-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dunn and others from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, along with experts from Johns Hopkins’ Carey Business School, are designing a program to train basic scientists in the development and commercialization of products to prevent and treat substance use disorders.

The market is huge, says Dunn, noting emphasis on, among other areas, designing products for overdose identification and reversal, devices to detect changes in oxygen saturation during opioid overdose and developing new compounds to treat opioid use disorder. “I’m excited to see what could happen,” she says.

Dunn, who has an M.B.A. from the Carey school, will co-direct this certificate of entrepreneurship program with Phillip Phan, the school’s Alonzo and Virginia Decker Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship. Other faculty members working on the curriculum are Patrick Finan, formerly of Johns Hopkins’ psychiatry department; Sean Tackett from the Division of General Internal Medicine and Supriya Munshaw, senior lecturer at the business school. The eight-week course, to be offered once each year, will feature both asynchronous online modules covering topics such as ideation, market discovery, intellectual property and regulatory strategy, and an intensive, multiday, in-person experience during which participants can observe and can speak with experts at substance use disorder clinics about their needs. The course will end with a pitch competition, and a financial prize will be awarded to enhance product development. The program’s graduates will be equipped to apply for translational funding and patents, and to license intellectual property and start companies. They also will join a virtual networking group to mentor future classes.

The first cohort is expected to enroll by this summer, with roughly 30 trainees.  

Program attendees will be able “to not only gain the content but to be evidence-trained in this area, which will help boost potential for investment and for future grant funding,” Dunn says.

This initiative targets applicants from diverse scientific fields, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and gender and age groups, and program materials are accessible to those with visual or hearing impairments and other disabilities. An advisory board of experts in substance use, entrepreneurial development, biomedical engineering and other areas will contribute.

Participants may develop products that include mobile apps and new technologies, medicinal chemistry screening tools for novel compounds, and items that allow quicker searches of electronic health records by using machine learning. “There are so many opportunities,” says Dunn, “and one can’t even predict what might materialize.”   

To learn more about the Innovations for Substance Abuse Disorders program, go to i4sud.com.