Enable: a tool to move from lab to licence
The enable programme supports EPFL researchers who want to valorise the results of their research through licensing. Since its creation in 2012, more than 178 projects have been supported. Among these is a project aimed at finding a solution to the scourge of antibiotic resistance.
How are the projects supported by enable chosen? What kind of support is offered to researchers? How is the success of a project measured? Discussion with Éric Meurville (Technology Acceleration Manager and head of the enable programme) and Bea Arnold (Technology Transfer Manager)!
How do you select the projects that are supported by enable?
The projects we support must address an unmet market need. They must normally be the subject of a patent application filed (or in the process of being filed) with the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) and the proposed technology must offer a potential for valorisation through licensing by the TTO to an established company.
The development of a technology that has not yet been patented, but has strong commercial potential, can also be supported by enable. This is the case, for example, of the "Mechano-inhibitor" project (more information here) led by Professor Alexandre Persat. It proposes a solution to combat bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics, such as the widespread Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is one of the ESKAPE pathogens. This group of bacteria is particularly resistant to commonly used antibiotics and is the leading cause of life-threatening hospital infections in immunocompromised and/or critically ill patients worldwide.
In addition to the impact that such research could have on the quality of life of infected patients, what appealed to us about this project was the originality, even disruption, of the idea. In discussing with the project leader, we realised that his initial background was not in infectiology, but in mechanics. It is thanks to his dual competence in "mechanics" and "microbial biology" that Alexandre Persat was able to develop this innovative solution.
Beyond financial support, what support do you offer to researchers?
The financial support provided by the programme can reach 30kCHF per project. In addition to this support, the TTO team provides expertise in the area of intellectual protection and contracts. As for the enable team, it supports the researchers throughout the implementation of their project (lasting on average from 6 to 12 months) at the organisational and technical levels. Thanks to the diversity of its network, the team also has access to many companies to which technology transfer is possible.
How do you measure the success of a project?
We measure success upstream, when we manage to associate a company with the project that is likely to license the technology. In general, this partner does not inject money into the project, but participates actively by providing infrastructure or manpower. Success is also measured downstream when, at the end of the project, the technology is transferred directly via a licence to the partner company.
In the case of the Mechano-inhibitor project, the anti-infective strategy studied is recognised as innovative and is attracting strong interest from the pharmaceutical industry; in fact, there are several molecules currently in development.
What role does enable play in technology transfer at EPFL?
The ultimate goal of the enable programme is to increase the level of maturity of the technologies coming out of EPFL laboratories, to build long-lasting relationships with industrial partners, and to validate the performance of these technologies for specific uses in order to make the economic actors confident about their viability (and, thus, facilitate technology transfer).