Dr. Melissa Thompson
Dr. Melissa Thompson

An Office of Strategic Industry Initiatives has been jointly created by the Offices of Technology Management and Academic & Research Affairs to foster stronger relationships among UTHealth’s faculty and key companies in the areas of the life sciences, IT/software and devices. The office will provide a point of contact for collaborative research programs.

“Creation of this new office reflects a focused commitment towards greater collaboration between industry and academics and the translation of our incredible research enterprise efforts into new patient care tools and therapies,” said Bruce D. Butler, Ph.D., vice president of Research & Technology and director of the Office of Technology Management.

This initiative comes at a pivotal time when federal and state funding continues to become more challenging while new funding opportunities have an increased focus on translating research for technology development and commercialization. Simultaneously, companies are looking for innovative ways to build their pipeline and/or product portfolio, and in this respect, they recognize the breadth of research at academic campuses that can lead to important new discoveries. With more than $225 million in research expenditures annually and an ever-growing patient population, UTHealth is primed to increasingly engage in “industry-academic collaborations” and technology development in a variety of areas to improve patient outcomes and quality of life.

Under the guidance of Associate Director Melissa Thompson, Ph.D., efforts have focused on accumulating information about the rich research landscape within UTHealth and understanding the unique capabilities and needs of the research and clinical faculty. Thompson is creating a database of researchers’ potential collaborative opportunities that will be mutually beneficial to faculty members and companies. Thompson also gathers information and builds relationships with industry, which then can be paired with faculty members. In both scenarios, developing a close, synergistic relationship is essential.

“UTHealth is very fortunate to have recruited Dr. Thompson. She has a diverse research and strategic background that is apropos for building this new office, particularly in engaging faculty and industry,” said George Stancel, Ph.D., executive vice-president for Academic and Research Affairs. “I encourage faculty members to contact her with ideas and suggestions for help in identifying and obtaining industry and other non-traditional types of research support. She’s already provided expert assistance to the Office of Academic and Research Affairs.”

These efforts lead to a variety of interactions ranging from individual pairing meetings to “Industry Days,” when a company is invited to visit UTHealth to present a talk about collaboration opportunities and targeted research areas. This is typically followed with one-on-one meetings arranged between the company representatives and individual faculty members to discuss specific collaborations based on respective interests and resources. Faculty members are encouraged to suggest potential companies for these Industry Days as well as contact Thompson about approaching events to request a meeting.

Prior to these meetings and interactions, Thompson facilitates the negotiation and execution of confidentiality agreements and helps faculty members prepare materials for the company representatives’ review. Once collaborative opportunities are identified and are ready for a formal agreement, the office works with Sponsored Projects Administration and/or Technology Management to put the proper agreements in place. Additionally, Technology Management is kept apprised of the technology development so that they may manage the intellectual property, patent application, copyrights and other related protections.

Other important activities and interactions of the office include:

  • Facilitating industry-initiated calls for proposals and review for submission,
  • Engaging and facilitating with UT System-based initiatives, including UT System FreshAIR,
  • Maintaining a curated database for ongoing research capabilities and needs,
  • Developing larger strategic alliances with companies already engaged with UTHealth,
  • Advertising relevant industry-related funding opportunities (e.g. SBIR/STTR, DARPA, CPRIT commercialization awards, etc.),
  • Creating a small company database for faculty interested in collaborating for SBIR/STTR grant application submissions,
  • Promoting unique core services to companies and facilitating contract execution and management for those services,
  • Keeping open lines of communication with UTHealth administrative offices to provide assistance, when applicable, and
  • Coordinating with area resources and initiatives and advertising opportunities where appropriate (e.g. JLABS, TMCx, Houston Technology Center, i-Corps at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, etc.).

In collaboration with Technology Management and Academic & Research Affairs, the office is developing resources for communicating with faculty and industry, including a dynamic website for providing information on corporate funding opportunities, an email distribution list and an informative seminar series. Thompson has attended faculty meetings, school-wide research symposia and seminars and met one-on-one with faculty in order to build a presence on campus. Recent office sponsored seminars and Industry Day events have included GlaxoSmithKline, Purdue Pharma, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi. Upcoming events under development include seminars and meetings with Cook Medical and Merck.

Thompson received her Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from Johns Hopkins University and completed a postdoctoral fellow at MD Anderson Cancer Center in the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine. Prior to joining UTHealth, she served as research program director for the Gulf Coast Consortia. Thompson understands many of the challenges facing research and clinical scientists and has experience in building relationships with faculty and potential stakeholders. As an engineer, Thompson enjoys the challenge in solving problems, particularly translating academic-based discoveries to improve patient care through innovative therapeutics, devices and software, as well as overcoming potential hurdles Her ultimate goal is to empower faculty members to fulfill their and UTHealth’s mission.

For more information about these initiatives, contact Thompson at Melissa.Thompson@uth.tmc.edu or call 713-500-3415.