Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Capstone professional education

Today is the biggest day of the year here at KGI, as 88 graduate students present the results of their year-long Team Masters Project. The TMP is the capstone of the KGI experience, allowing teams of 4-5 students to work to meet the needs of a real company.

Realism is the watchword of the TMP program (and KGI more generally). The students work as consultants (with the faculty advisor as the senior partner) to identify and address the needs articulated by their industry liaison. This is not about getting a grade: this is about delivering results that satisfy the promises the team made to their sponsor. Unlike (most) projects in the real world, the deadline is completely immovable, as our students are all planning on graduating and leaving KGI next week.

There are analogous programs in some professional schools, such as the business school context where I worked for 11 years. However, such efforts are usually a single semester and a single course (KGI students treat their TMP as a double class).

This is my second TMP Day, but my first as a KGI faculty member. It’s also a record year for the TMP program, with 19 projects and (for the first time) being presented in parallel sessions. Of the 19 projects, 11 are from returning sponsors — eight of these sponsoring in consecutive years.

I watched three projects during the lead off segment. All three played to KGI strengths: two related to rare diseases and a third to genomic medicine.

For Pfizer, the team compared the regulatory approval processes for orphan and non-orphan drugs that were approved over a ten year period. After examining regulatory disclosures for 95 drugs to treat conditions of hematology, pulmonology, endocrinology, neurology, they found that the orphan drug trials had fewer trials and number of trial participants — but the time required for clinical trial and regulatory approval were similar. The study is expected to be published in the Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics Journal.

For Sigma-Tau, the student team examined the direct, indirect and intangible costs for a rare childhood disease, totaling over the direct costs were over $5 billion. After adding up medical and other quantifiable costs, they used social media to contact parents of patients to better understand the impact of the disease on these children and their families.

The project for Express Scripts/Medco considered how (or whether) this pharmacy benefits manager should leverage the opportunities to create new business around whole genome sequencing. Considering both the feasibility and attractiveness of these opportunities, they evaluated three ways of generating revenue from customers — in oncology, pharmacogenomics and preventative care — as well as business models based on selling the data for other purposes (such as pharma research).

This year I’ve been advisor for two projects from beginning to end (the first faculty member to do that).
Presentation by Clear Springs project team
The first team to present analyzed the feasibility of building an open pond algae farm for the 18,000 acres of Florida land owned by Clear Springs Land Company. The biofuels industry is a potentially huge market, but this requires hundreds of millions of investment in unproven technology to compete with commodity oil prices. After reviewing the literature, talking to experts, working with a specific technology provider and attending an algae conference, my team concluded that it would be possible to get a positive NPV (over 10 years) by selling biodiesel and aquafeed from the algae cultivation.

This afternoon will bring my second team, who have compared R&D processes in four Fortune 500 companies and a large government lab. From 73 interviews, they created a six-step model of the innovation journey: opportunity recognition, idea generation, idea crystallization, consensus building, management approval and implementation. This project was a rare one in that it was sponsored by Eli Lilly, but the full findings are being shared with participating companies and members of the Industrial Research Institute. (They also expect to publish a summary in Research-Technology Management, the IRI journal).

Other sponsors this year included Abbott Medical Optics, Amylin, BioMarin, City of Hope, Gilead, Life Technologies, Monsanto and Tecan.

Once the final reports are submitted next week, the students are done. But for the sponsors, TMP director and (soon) faculty advisors, the process for next year is just beginning again.

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