Creating a Culture of Interaction:
Pilot and Milestone-Based Funding Programs
A key portion of the vision of the ICVBM is to facilitate the cross-disciplinary interaction of investigators establishing new research programs as expeditiously as possible. The motivation for this vision comes from a firm conviction that new interactions of scientists with dissimilar backgrounds will catalyze innovative research and capitalize upon technological developments most effectively. This yields the two key highly desirable and but inseparably linked outcomes of new funding from multiple sources, and work which translates into clinical programs, coupled with products that can be commercialized.
Historically, the encouragement of inter-investigator interaction in the context of a Center has been accomplished by providing particular benefits which are available to Center investigators but not to non-participants. Examples of such benefits frequently have included discounted pricing for specific services available or enhanced accessibility to key technologies or pieces of equipment. Indeed, several examples of such discounts or core facilities currently exist at Indiana University, and are utilized by many of the ICVBM investigators by virtue of their affiliations with other programs such as the Diabetes Research and Training Center and the Cancer Center.
To help stimulate productive interaction of investigators with the shortest possible time lag, a culture focused on rewarding interaction, collaboration, and teamwork within the center must be created. This is rather than the predominantly individual research accomplishments traditionally emphasized at the level of division and department-based work. This behavioral modification is greatly accelerated by the provision of specific incentives that reward the desired behavior. Simply put, investigators understand the benefits they enjoy by working as Center investigators and feel that the success of the Center as an entity is linked to their own personal and academic success, similar to the business enterprise model so familiar to many people.
Two mutually reinforcing programs are being considered to create this culture, the rewards of which are specifically available to active participants in Center research and activities. These three programs are:
- Pilot funding available specifically to support projects emphasizing co-investigation by scientists with widely differing expertise in different departments or schools (i.e., funding to promote future research)
- Incentives available in response to the achievement of particular milestones judged as early indicators pointing the way to translation of technology and ultimate commercialization
It will be noted that each of these programs encourages a distinct aspect of behavior helpful to the Center as a whole. Respectively, these may be phrased as:
- "If you work across disciplines, you will do well."
- "If you work toward the markers suggested by the ICVBM, you will do even better."
- "If the center does well, you will do well."
These stand in contrast to the more typical individual laboratory model for progressive success: "If you do well, you will do well."
Pilot Project Program
Members in good standing of the ICVBM are eligible to participate in a program intended to fund new proposed projects, with a key requirement that the project be undertaken as a collaborative engagement between scientists of different expertise and departments. This requirement is intended to stimulate interdisciplinary work so that in cases when available funding is more limited than the total requests made, relationships in which the joint investigators both bring critical unique expertise and innovation to the projects (as opposed to functions that can be identified in many departments or areas) will be strongly favored. To render the proposed mechanism as investigator-friendly as possible, proposals are brief (= 5 pages desirable although not required) and budgets only require a breakdown between "total personnel," "total supplies," and "total animal costs." These applications are invited for consideration annually and are not routed prior to decisions about their ranking, to reduce the intensity of administrative requirements and increase the likelihood of obtaining larger numbers of submissions for consideration. Depending on available funding, and the number of proposals received, one or more applications are selected after each meeting of the Pilot Project Committee. The number to be funded is determined based on consultation between the Committee and the Director as well as the quality of the proposals made at a specific time.
Milestones in Growth Program
The formation of industrial relationships, as well as timely submission of patent applications, are crucial to the eventual interest of prospective industrial partners to commercialize products based on devices, compositions, or methods which are outgrowths of the discovery process at the ICVBM. Accordingly, members of the ICVBM are eligible to participate in a program of incentives that will reward the achievement of particular milestones designed to facilitate rapid program development in these areas. Specifically, achievement of the milestones as established by the Director result in the provision of funds that are allocated to the recognized laboratories for unrestricted use at the discretion of the PI. While the specific nature of these milestones may change over time, the underlying theme of the "Milestones in Growth" program is to encourage investigators to consider and actively pursue industrial and philanthropic sources of laboratory funding, as well as to aggressively pursue early idea disclosures and submission of patent applications.
This program complements the present incentives for outcomes offered by the Indiana University Research & Technology Center (IURTC), which currently provides for division of upfront fees and royalties among various sections within Indiana University and the creators. Whereas such benefits typically occur upon licensing and commercialization, which in the health field may require 5-10 years after initial description, the Milestones in Growth program is designed to provide early rewards for activity that provides the foundation for future licensing opportunities.
To further stimulate the culture of involvement and interest in the progress and success of the ICVBM as a whole, ICVBM members will participate through sharing in revenue as well as equity streams generated by the new technologies and start up entities to which the Center gives rise. This approach will promote a collective ownership in the ICVBM and its success, and will help to encourage ICVBM members to participate in helping each other forward to greater levels of discovery and success.
At the present time, several technologies at various stages of development are already potentially available for consideration by the technology board upon its constitution. A list of these will be compiled for inclusion in future updates of this document.