Talk about taking one for the team. In 2008, BU researcher Ed Damiano needed a couple of healthy adults as controls for the first human clinical trials of the bionic pancreas for people with type 1 diabetes that he’d been working on for several years. Mike Pratt volunteered. He spent 27 hours in a bed at Massachusetts General Hospital with IVs attached to both arms. An administrator with the Technology Development Office (OTD) for 17 years, Pratt says he was inspired by the College of Engineering biomedical engineering professor’s research mission—to improve the lives of children with the disease. “I believed in Ed’s work,” he says.
Now, after leading OTD as interim managing director since August 2015, Pratt (Questrom’13) has been named to the position. As University leaders have undertaken a critical review of OTD over the past year, Pratt has been instrumental in refocusing the office’s goals: “to provide prompt, informed service to faculty inventors/creators while protecting and licensing their creations through clear, transparent, and efficient processes,” Gloria Waters, vice president and associate provost for research, writes in a letter announcing Pratt’s promotion. Waters commends Pratt’s vision for “further enhancing BU’s ability to interact with industry” in order to promote “the institutional goal of widespread dissemination/use for societal benefit.”
For Pratt, who holds a BA in physics from the College of the Holy Cross and an MBA from the Questrom School of Business, his job at OTD is an opportunity to connect people from two different worlds—academia and industry. “It’s an important responsibility to try and commercialize these technologies so more people can benefit from all the hard work that goes into research and discovery,” he says. “People connecting with people to solve common problems: that’s tech transfer to me.”
Getting a discovery to market can take years—if it gets there at all—and Pratt says his goal is for OTD to help faculty navigate the paperwork, and the inevitable obstacles, as smoothly as possible. “We’re not a gatekeeper,” he says. “We’re an enabler. We want people to view tech transfer not as an administrative burden, but as an office that helped them through this difficult process and didn’t hold them back.”
OTD should enable faculty to fulfill their own visions for collaborating with industry, he says. “We want to empower faculty to make good choices, but we also need to draft legal agreements that protect the institution from downstream liabilities.”
Pratt joined OTD in May 2000 as a licensing associate responsible for inventions that came out of research in the physical sciences. Over the years, he has held a series of different roles, each with increasing responsibility: director of corporate business development, director of translational research and corporate relations, executive director of business development. Before coming to BU, he was the global support manager at NESLAB Instruments, Inc., of Portsmouth, N.H.
In 2015, Pratt’s office helped Damiano navigate a mountain of licensing and intellectual property agreements to start Beta Bionics, Inc., as a public benefit corporation. The company’s mission is to serve the type 1 diabetes community by getting Damiano’s bionic pancreas through final clinical trials and the regulatory process and into commercialization.
“That’s BU empowering Ed to pursue his dream the way he wants to pursue it,” Pratt says. “If we were just trying to make money, someone would have said to Ed, ‘Don’t do it that way.’”
Damiano credits Pratt with guiding him and his Beta Bionics partners through “an incredibly complex licensing deal involving many stakeholders, under an absurdly short timeline, and through the 2015 holiday season.”
It was on a Friday night in mid November 2015 that Damiano let Pratt know that he had to complete the licensing paperwork for Beta Bionics before the end of the year. “We went to Ed’s house that Saturday,” says Pratt. “We said, ‘If we’re going to get this done, we’d better start right now.’”
Pratt and his team “accomplished in six weeks what most academic institutions wouldn’t be able to do in six months,” Damiano says. “Boston University is extremely fortunate to have Mike’s dedication, talent, and commitment to lead its Technology Development Office.”