Rutgers University is a leading national research university that works alongside its corporate neighbors to foster developments in the health sector.

Chris Molloy

SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, OFFICE OF RESEARCH AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY

March 17, 2017

Rutgers University is the largest university within New Jersey’s state university system, and has a history dating back to 1766. How has the university evolved?

Rutgers was first established as Queen’s College in 1766, and is the eighth-oldest college in the United States and one of the nine original colonial colleges. In the 1950s, it became the State University of New Jersey, and progressed in 1989 to become a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU). Today, Rutgers is a top 30 research university in the US with nearly 70,000 students, and spends more than $650 million per year in research. We are also part of the Big Ten Academic Alliance, a group of mostly large state universities that generates more than $10 billion a year in research expenditures in the U.S.–more than the Ivy League universities or the University of California system together spend.

Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) is an important component of the university that was formed in 2013 through the merger with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) as a result of the New Jersey Medical and Health Sciences Education Restructuring Act. The division has vast expertise in a wide variety of biomedical research areas including oncology, neuroscience, immunology, anti-infectives, and cardiovascular diseases.

What attracts students to the Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) division?

Students are attracted in part to the “Rutgers brand”, and equally drawn by the fact that Rutgers is a leading national research university. A recent article in USA Today ranked the university second in the U.S. among the best places to study health professions, with careers such as nursing, pharmacy, physician assistant, physical therapy, and so on.

We also have very good relationships with many surrounding industries. We are continuously expanding our student internship programs and seek to invite companies to interview our students on a regular basis. For example, the Rutgers Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy coordinates the largest national pharmacy post-doctoral program, placing top pharmacy school graduates throughout the US in one- or two-year fellowships at more than a dozen biopharmaceutical companies. Since 1984, this program has grown to include more than 100 fellows annually at 17 partner companies including Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novartis and Pfizer. 

Could you elaborate on the emphasis placed on research in New Jersey and the role Rutgers plays?

New Jersey is actively working to foster and expand a research-intensive ecosystem in a variety of areas that leverages the large professional talent pool available in this relatively small state. State universities like Rutgers contribute by recruiting top students and producing world-class research that attracts and expands our corporate industrial base, leading to job growth. We believe that expanded public-private partnerships among the state’s universities and industry will spur private investments and economic development as has happened in other areas of the US, such as Massachusetts and California.

University research funding in the past has come from traditional federal and state sources; however, we also are developing an internal investment fund to advance Rutgers technologies towards the marketplace, by redirecting a portion of our technology licensing income. We hope that this “TechAdvance” funding mechanism will help to attract subsequent investments from venture and angel investors to establish new companies and/or further develop useful university technologies. To support these initiatives, the university is also reviewing options for the development of an innovation-focused research park, located right on campus, which would support new industry partnerships.

What are the benefits of continuous manufacturing and how is Rutgers driving development in this area?

In recent years, the pharmaceutical industry has realized that it is very costly to produce large drug batches, and there have been major technological advancements in small-batch continuous manufacturing (CM). This developing technology has been shown to greatly reduce both the time and the cost of developing and manufacturing new medicines, while enabling significant improvements in quality and reliability. Due to these reasons among others, CM has become a priority for biopharmaceutical companies as well as for regulatory agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Over the past decade, the Rutgers School of Engineering has led the way in the developing CM technologies through a National Science Foundation-funded engineering research center. The Rutgers team has been very successful in developing partnerships on CM with major pharmaceutical companies such as Johnson & Johnson, as well as leading efforts to develop appropriate regulatory policies and training for the FDA and the United States Pharmacopeia (USP). In fact, Johnson & Johnson recently used CM processes that were developed and optimized at Rutgers to produce their HIV drug Prezista.

In what ways is Rutgers taking advantage of trends for companies to outsource early-stage R&D?

The pharmaceutical industry is under a great deal of pressure from investors to keep profitable, and in order to reduce expensive internal R&D resources, companies have been increasingly outsourcing early-stage research. Universities can benefit from this trend by partnering with pharmaceutical companies in these early research phases; for example, in disease target identification and target validation, and we are expanding our industry collaborations to take advantage of this at Rutgers.

In this regard, my office has developed an in-house preclinical translational research team, staffed by scientists with many years of pharmaceutical industry experience, that works with our academic faculty to identify and advance new therapeutic research projects and develop new patented technologies. The expertise of this translational team spans medicinal chemistry, cell biology, in vivo pharmacology, imaging technologies and histopathology, which complements many of the academic strengths of Rutgers in the life sciences. This core group and their facilities are also available to provide expert help with external partners from the biotechnology industry, further extending the university’s reach in economic development.

What are the key priorities and objectives for Rutgers going forward?

Rutgers’ main priority continues to be the education of our students in the best possible way. However, as a prominent state-funded research university, our mission also includes research and service, and we readily accept our role to support the economic growth of the state and industry through productive collaborations with state agencies and companies across the entire research continuum.

My office at Rutgers University has worked hard to foster a user-friendly business environment with respect to corporate relations, sponsored research, and technology transfer. We are flexible in terms of our IP positions and how we work with companies. We strongly believe that our office should work at the “speed of business”, and I have encouraged my experienced staff to embrace this philosophy. Rutgers is “open for business” and looks forward to many more productive corporate partnerships. We have a lot to offer.

 

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