Meet the Commercialization Academy Alum: Michael Wormald
Sept. 20, 2019
Describe your path to advanced research.
I worked in a natural product synthesis lab while completing my bachelor’s degree at the University of Richmond. We synthesized small molecules present in marine sponges that had potential use as anti-cancer therapies. We were strictly focused on the chemistry aspect of the work and would ship the compounds to a collaborator for biological testing. I remember feeling unsatisfied with this arrangement because it would often take months before we received results and the whole biological testing process was a bit of a black box. I wanted to see how these new molecules actually worked in biological systems.
Around this time, I became fascinated with the fact that small molecule therapeutics can have such dramatic effects on human physiology so I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in pharmacology and molecular sciences at Johns Hopkins University to really delve into this topic.
How did you become aware of technology transfer and commercialization?
The lab I joined to conduct my Ph.D. research was very focused on getting potential therapeutics into clinical trials, and over time I developed an appreciation for what discovery and preclinical research really mean and how difficult it is to move ideas out of the lab and through the pharmaceutical development pipeline. I was initially interested in working in pharmaceutical research but after talking with my lab mate (who was part of a startup at the time), a few patent attorneys and taking a number of classes focused on the business aspect of scientific research, science commercialization seemed much more exciting to me than more bench work.
How did you get connected with Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures?
I attended an National Institutes of Health Career Symposium in my third year of the Ph.D. program and one of the sessions I got the most out of was on intellectual property and technology transfer. The panelists mentioned one of the best ways to break into the field was to contact your university tech transfer office and see if they have any opportunities to help out. I sent an email to someone at JHTV to set up an informational interview to learn more about tech transfer generally and JHTV specifically.
During the interview, I was made aware of a part-time internship program that I could take part in while completing my dissertation work. I applied on the spot and started working in the office a few months later.
Tell us about the experience.
My work at JHTV allowed me to think about scientific research in a different way. Instead of asking myself, “What is the next experiment?” or “How can I publish these data?”, I was asking, “What is the unmet need?” and “Who will pay for this technology? What is the market?” A lot of the time an idea or invention may be very interesting from a scientific perspective but might not actually have commercial value.
As a researcher at heart, it was exciting for me to see the bleeding edge of a wide variety of technologies coming from Johns Hopkins’ faculty, from liquid biopsies to antibody therapeutics. At JHTV, I completed a number of marketing abstracts that briefly describe a new technology and who may want to use it. I also worked on a number of projects where I dove deep into a technology, assessing the academic literature, patent landscape and market size/competition to give the licensing associates and intellectual property managers a good idea of the commercial impact a given technology may have.
Through JHTV I also attended a conference for the Association of University Technology Managers where I got to network with professionals in the field and learn more about tech transfer as a profession.
How did your time at JHTV affect your thinking about your academic work and career?
We were potentially thinking about patenting some of my Ph.D. work but after learning about what that process entails we decided to publish it instead. Professionally, I learned that the work I did as an intern could lead to a satisfying career that is still very close to science research, just off the bench.
Where are you now and how are you using what you learned at JHTV?
I am currently working within the Commercialization Strategy Group at JHTV as a business analyst. In many respects the work I do now is a continuation of what I did in the internship program but in an expanded capacity. The ability to quickly understand technology that is outside your wheelhouse and think about their market applications is very important in this role. As an intern I was able to build these skills and I am continuing to build them today.