CCRM Australia Internships: Exciting the next generation of bio entrepreneurs

Authors: Bhavi Kadakia, Dharvi Patel, Harmanpreet Harmanpreet, Mahmuda Khatun

Edited by: Dr Chih Wei Teng

CCRM Australia offers various programs designed to support the development of the Australian regenerative medicine sector and provides opportunities to collaborate in addressing the challenges faced by the industry. The CCRM Australia Training Programs seeks to facilitate training for the future workforce of the Australian Regenerative Medicine sector and includes an internship program that accepts undergraduate and postgraduate students from Australia’s universities.

The CCRM Australia internship offers an experiential, immersive journey to students, who have an interest in the commercialisation of regenerative medicine or wish to gain operational experience within the sector. The internship focuses on market analysis and sector development. It does this by exercising the interns through a desk journey of business development and landscape analysis. In market analysis, an understanding is gained on the natural history of a disease (such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases), current forms of treatment, competitor analysis, including unique value propositions. Integral to their research into advanced therapeutic medicinal products such as cell and gene therapies, mentoring in the applicability and commercial potential of these novel therapies against current treatment and potential candidates is provided.

Gaurav Bengeri, who was a former intern with CCRM Australia, reflected on her experience, “As an intern at CCRM Australia, I got to develop a better understanding of how the regenerative medicine industry operates and the challenges and opportunities it faces. My weekly meetings with my supervisor, Dr Chih Wei Teng, were informative and rewarding. Dr Teng is highly knowledgeable, and I’m glad I got to ‘pick his brain’. He also guided me towards thinking more critically”.

During this trying period of COVID-19 pandemic, CCRM Australia has accepted four students from the Masters of Biotechnology course at Monash University. They have been challenged to develop a sector development plan to put Australia on the path of advancing its regenerative medicine industry. The interns have been researching the state of the art of the science and different translation and commercialisation strategies adopted by leading jurisdictions around the world such as the US, the UK and Japan. Also, the team has been collating recommendations in building a strong and effective manufacturing presence capable of supporting translation and commercialisation efforts published by leading institutions and thinkers

Throughout the internship period, CCRM Australia makes available opportunities for the interns to go beyond desktop research. Activities include participation in events such as the AusBiotech Conferences.  These not only provide opportunities for networking with prominent researchers and biotechnology companies but also showcase positive outcomes of basic research that have undergone clinical translation.

Current interns were invited to participate as observers in the CCRM Australia National Regenerative Medicine SuperPitch. This SuperPitch event saw four curated biotechnology companies and researchers pitching their technology to eight venture funds from the US, Canada and Australia. Interns observed presenters and their unique pitching styles reflecting their clinical, researcher, and commercial backgrounds and their respective stages in the development lifecycle. Attending this event also provided an interesting contrast between what the students have experienced during their mock entrepreneurial projects against the SuperPitch when the stakes are real.

“The SuperPitch offers expertise and investment funding for translation and commercialisation of Australian projects related to regenerative medicine. By attending the program, I got an opportunity to learn how academic research has been adapted into commercial phase; how official presentation looks like; which points need to focus on attracting the investors”, reflected Ms Mahmuda Khatun who is a current intern with CCRM Australia.

Another opportunity for exposure is the ‘BioBusiness Insights’ webinar series, co-hosted by CCRM Australia and the BioMelbourne Network. Dr Michael May, CEO of CCRM, provided insightful information on the global regenerative medicine landscape and how the sector has evolved significantly over the past eight years. For example, induced pluripotent stem cells becoming more routine since receiving the pivotal work of Nobel Prize winner Prof Shinya Yamanaka. And despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr May was optimistic given the financial data from the first half of 2020, that the current year is set to be highest on record for financial investments with record-breaking investments and IPO financings.

Considering Dr May’s chronicle of how the sector has evolved, Ms Bhavi Kakakia, another CCRM Australia intern noted the “transition from the supremacy of Mesenchymal stem cells to revolutionising the sector by making use of 3D manufacturing practices and CAR-T cell therapy. In terms of manufacturing, most things were cultured at the academic scale, but now we have robust manufacturing processes”.

Dr May then articulated the contribution of CCRM as a platform for internal idea generation, enhancing stakeholder value, attracting venture capitalists, nurturing start-ups, catalysing investments and creating opportunities and emphasising that the experience of CCRM has shown itself to be a proven commercialisation model that is a collaborative, sustainable and cost-efficient.  Dr May advocated for multidisciplinary approaches between academia and industry to access intellectual property, focus on risk capital, manufacturing and filling the talent gap in the industry.

Having attended the webinar, CCRM Australia intern Ms Dharvi Patel shared, “we got to learn how effectively CCRM has been a platform for internal idea generation, enhancing stakeholder value, attracting investors, incubating start-ups, catalysing investments, reinvestments to attain sustainability, and creating opportunities. Furthermore, the seminar allowed me to have a better understanding of the ecosystem based on the stakeholders’ engagement, exploring academic inventions, and creating an example of true entrepreneurship”.

By organising programs like the Business of Regenerative Medicine Asia Pacific, offering support for Australian-based PhD candidates and research fellows to attend international commercialisation workshops, receive mentorships and participate in internships and exchange programs between the different CCRM hubs around the world, CCRM Australia is contributing to the nurturing of future bioentrepreneurs that may one day commercialise novel regenerative medicine therapies into the healthcare market.

As Training Program coordinator, CCRM Australia Chief Operating Officer, Dr Chih Wei Teng is pleased with the range of opportunities that is able to be offered to students entering the intern program noting that “the immersive experience we are able to provide means that the interns are able to get a good understanding of this sector whilst also developing their interests for a future role in regenerative medicine”.

CCRM Australia is always on the lookout for students interested in gaining insights into regenerative medicine sector as a CCRM Australia intern.  For further information please contact Dr Teng at chihwei.teng@ccrmaustralia.com.au.