Another questioner asked whether the national laboratories have found ways to allow investigators to be actively involved in start-ups. Dr. Worden said that this is indeed a difficult issue at Ames. Some scientists left government to work on start-ups and, if they did not succeed, often came back to work at Ames. He said that a legal advisory program was needed.
Dr. Stulen said that Sandia has an entrepreneurial separation program that frees people to leave for up to two years to establish a start-up, with an option to renew for one more year and then return to the lab should things not work out. This helps scientists take the risk necessary to start a new company and provides a way for Sandia to attract high performers back to the lab. Venture capital firms, however, prefer that scientists sever their link with the lab to commit completely to the new venture. Dr. Niederhuber said that NCI did not have “anything close to that, and recruitment and retention are more difficult because of it. I think the pendulum has to come back a little.”
Dr. Wessner asked Dr. Niederhuber about the anticipated financial scale of the new NCI-Frederick Park and whether NCI would follow the practice of partnering with a university. Dr. Niederhuber replied that some of the investment took the form of labor by himself and others at NCI. In terms of capital expenses, he planned to have a developer construct the building, which NCI would lease back. Of the total NCI budget of $4.8 billion, some $17 million is used for leasing laboratory and office space, and some of this will be used at Frederick. Infrastructure and equipment will also come out of the existing NCI budget. Private partners will be asked to finance their own facilities.
He said that the partnerships with universities would be “facilitative.” That is, an investigator might come forward with a project—perhaps a cellular target that has promise for treating cancer. The project might need some advanced analytical techniques that NCI could offer. For example, high-throughput screening of libraries might be required to see if the compound has promise. Or significant chemistry input might be needed to refine a small or large molecule, optimize it, and determine how it could be used in formulation. NCI could help a university partner do this testing and also study the molecule in terms of how it will change function and whether it has efficacy. “That’s the kind of partnership we imagine,” he said. “We can also do a great deal to facilitate the interaction of academic investigators with the private sector.”