UMB Leaders' Asia Tour Yields New Opportunities

October 31, 2018    |  

UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD, and members of the UMB leadership team traveled to four Asian cities in late September and early October to strengthen existing relationships and establish new ones, expanding educational, research and economic development opportunities.

Beijing - Pharmaron

Starting in Beijing, China, the team visited with Pharmaron founder and CEO Boliang Lou, PhD, and his team. The rapidly growing contract research organization (CRO) operates facilities in China, the United Kingdom, and the United States, recently acquired a majority stake in Japan-based SNBL CPC, one of the University of Maryland BioPark's oldest tenants. Its 40-thousand square foot Clinical Pharmacology Center in Baltimore works with the School of Medicine's Center for Vaccine Development. The meeting included discussion of possible expansion in the BioPark and working together on additional clinical trials and collaborative research.

(View a photo gallery of the Asia tour and watch a video below.)

UMB Provost Bruce Jarrell, MD, FACS, reacts to CUPL Vice President Shi Jianzhong, PhD, as the two discuss a possible program in dental forensics.

UMB Provost Bruce Jarrell, MD, FACS, reacts to CUPL Vice President Shi Jianzhong, PhD, as the two discuss a possible program in dental forensics.

James L. Hughes, MBA, UMB chief enterprise and economic development officer and vice president, reviewed the strength of the Maryland tech economy, the growth and potential for growth at the BioPark, and the recent successes of UM Ventures in bringing discoveries to market.

“We've invested a lot of money in that and the state in fact has invested a lot of money in that so the UM Ventures not only has the infrastructure to get the patents, to do the evaluations, to do the licensing, but also to seed programs earlier on to get them to this next more desirable step,” added Bruce Jarrell, MD, FACS, executive vice president, provost and graduate school dean.

The process of deciding which new discoveries and inventions show the greatest promise, and determining how to best develop them, Hughes offered, could benefit greatly from the critical eyes of an industry partner.

“What we'd be very interested in doing is seeing if you could help us in evaluating the technologies,” Hughes said. “Because ultimately what we're trying to do is to convince a pharmaceutical company or venture capitalist that they should invest a fair amount of money … in order to bring it to the market, so what we're trying to do is to make it a much more compelling technology.”

“Pharmaron clearly sees the opportunity to partner with academia on how to accelerate projects,” Lou replied. “We want to grow over there (in the United States), we want to serve society over there. That's our purpose. Without strong partnerships, without the support from our collaborators, our inventors, we couldn't make it.”

Beijing – China University of Political Science and Law

UMB's first international dual-degree program was established in 2015 with Beijing's China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL), one of China's top law schools. Students first earn their JD or equivalent degree, then begin the MS program at UMB with a number of transfer credits ultimately finishing with a JM and MS in forensic medicine. Under discussion: a proposal to expand the program to dental forensics. No such program exists in China, largely owing to the nation's limited history of electronic dental records. But that is changing quickly, making a joint-degree program an attractive proposal. 

“When I heard this today, I thought we should carefully think how to realize this program,” said
CUPL Vice President Shi Jianzhong, PhD. “This is the start of history maybe. I think in the future more people will show their interest in this subject.”

Jarrell also explained the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law's development of law degrees for non-lawyers and explored possible collaboration in that area.

Shanghai – Biomedical Industry Leaders

Eight-hundred miles to the southeast is Shanghai, China's largest city and a showcase of economic growth. Shanghai also offers many new partnership opportunities for UMB.

An early meeting with biomedical industry leaders provided keen insights into working with China, such as the evolving economic environment, biomedical industry trends, and the protection of intellectual property.

"Currently we get patent protection in the U.S., Europe and sometimes Japan, and I'm curious just how big a drawback that is for Chinese companies, if we have patent rights in the rest of the world, but not in China. Is that a drawback, or should we start pursuing patent protection in China?” Hughes asked the group.

As many heads nodded, Richard Chen, PhD, from Beijing-based CRO Fountain Medical Development, said, “I think right now you should because it's a very large market. All of the U.S. multinational companies are all here.”

Shanghai – Care Capital

University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) Dean Mark Reynolds, DDS, PhD, MA, played a prominent role in an exciting and eye-opening meeting with Care Capital, a global investor dedicated to dental research, care, and education. The company is the top distributor of dental equipment in China, one of the top providers of clear aligners worldwide (marketed as AngelAlign), and is a leader in clinical software and dental imaging. Care Capital also is a major investor in dental service organizations and sponsors dental education in China, Europe, and the U.S.

Reynolds provided details of a wide array of educational and research activities at the school, including groundbreaking work in biomaterials, pain and neuroscience, oncology, infectious diseases, and much more, all with an eye toward possible future collaboration.

“We have a very robust implant program, so we are very interested in exploring how we advance the field,” he offered as an example. Reynolds also explained that UMSOD ranks in the top 10 in the U.S. for research funding from the National Institutes of Health and boasts a 100 percent pass rate in licensure exams for the past two years.

“We’ve always had a lot of respect for the University of Maryland’s education program,” said Dai Feng, managing director, “and today we learned a lot more about the research program as well and it’s terrific. We’d love to tap into both the educational and research experiences.”

After an energetic exploration of potential collaborations in dental research and education, including topics from the role of dental hygienists to the use of saliva to routinely gather genetic information, the UMB team toured the company's impressive flagship dental clinic. The state-of-the-art facility included family- and child-friendly features that quickly attracted the attention of Perman and Reynolds, such as activity-filled waiting areas, low-mounted rinsing sinks with hardware shaped like elephants, and even artwork produced by one of the staff dentists featuring a happy young patient.

Shanghai – Fudan University

Not far away, Shanghai's Fudan University is one of China's oldest and most prominent universities with a highly respected medical school. In a wide-ranging discussion, leaders of both universities explored the programs and strengths of each institution, as well as unique offerings, such as specialized degrees offered by UMB aimed at broadening the capabilities of professionals. 

"One example is people who want to know more about regulatory science, like the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), or federal regulations or how to get a drug through the FDA," Jarrell cited as an example.

A shared commitment to medical research also was discussed as the basis for possible collaboration.

Seoul – Konkuk University

A short flight across the Yellow Sea brought the team to Seoul, South Korea, where one of UMB's newest relationships is blossoming. Konkuk University (KU) is one of South Korea’s leading private universities with nearly 30,000 undergraduates and graduate students on two campuses, in Seoul and Chungju. Among the 17 graduate schools are medicine, law, engineering, and science and technology.

Konkuk University President Sanggi Min and his leadership team visited UMB in May 2018 and were impressed with the Grid, UM Ventures' Graduate Research Innovation District. This vibrant education and co-working space offers students, entrepreneurs, faculty, and staff a place to connect to take on health and social challenges.

Like UMB, Konkuk is a leader in biomedical innovation and is committed to working with UMB to share best practices and develop new models for success. Step 1 is a move to create Konkuk's own Grid.

“I believe that UMB and our university can develop a collaborative partnership through today’s exceptional occasion,” KU Provost and Executive Vice President Tak Hur, PhD, told faculty, students, and the UMB delegation at a ceremony to unveil the KU Grid. "I'm very excited now to introduce the outstanding Grid system into our own Konkuk University."

“The KU Grid is the first visible product of the strong relationship between the University of Maryland, Baltimore and Konkuk University,” added Jongmin Lee, MD, PhD, dean of the KU School of Medicine. “The KU Grid will the hub of the commercialization and development of ideas and research products from students and faculty members as well as collaborations within and outside of Konkuk University.”

Taking his turn at the podium, Perman spoke of his personal experience and how it illustrates the importance and power of a commercialization hub within a university. “Once upon a time, I conducted biomedical research and my focus was in carbohydrate digestion and absorption and I had the good fortune to develop techniques to study carbohydrate digestion that in a way were very simple,” he said. “And I said to myself that this is so simple, that it is something that patients can do at home. We can teach a family to take a kit home from the office and they can measure the sugar to be investigated and measure the breath. I thought, put it in a kit. And then the next thought for me was how to encourage somebody in industry to make it into a kit. Well, I had no idea how to do that. I didn’t know how to sell my idea. I didn’t know issues of licensing, patenting, the whole world of commercialization. That was never taught to me. And that’s what we can do with the Grid.”

But promoting educational innovation is nothing new to KU, as the UMB team learned during a tour of KU’s Smart Factory. The facility allows students from any department to brainstorm, share ideas, and build things on their own using 3-D printing, precision laser-cutting in an indoor drone development arena, and advanced virtual reality systems. Perman, Jarrell, Reynolds, and Hughes watched as students designed aircraft wings with computer-assisted design software and perfected a virtual reality archery program.

Another close similarity with UMB is Konkuk's relationship with the Konkuk University Medical Center. Founded in 1931 as the Central Clinic of the Community, the 900-thousand-square-foot hospital includes 870 beds and features numerous specialties, including treatment of cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

Tokyo – Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories (SNBL)

Before returning to the U.S., the UMB team made a final stop in Tokyo to reinvigorate old ties and explore new relationships.

Ryoichi Nagata, MD, PHD, FFPM, founder and chairman of contract research organization SNBL, shared plans for continuing translational research in the U.S. which may include collaboration with UMB. The university has optioned several technologies to SNBL affiliate Gemseki, and President Hideyuki Hirama, MBA, expressed interest in expanding work with UM Ventures to help bring more UMB discoveries from the lab to the market.

The UMB team also had a chance to discuss the work of Cambridge, Mass.-based Wave Life Sciences with board member Ken Takanashi, MBA, who also is an executive vice president of SNBL. With investment from SNBL, Wave has pioneered breakthrough technology enabling the control of a geometric property (chirality) of some nucleic acids essential to the development of many drugs and therapies intended to treat genetic diseases.

Tokyo – University of Tokyo

The final meeting of the Asia tour took place at Japan's most prestigious public university, the University of Tokyo (UTokyo), just a few yards from the historic Akamon (red gate). Founded in 1877, UTokyo is one of the nation’s oldest and largest universities, with notable alumni including nine Nobel Prize winners and a quarter of all of Japan’s prime ministers.

Perman and Jarrell explored creating collaborative online learning courses focusing on emerging issues in global health, particularly in aging, with Kenji Shibuya, MD, DrPH, professor and chair of the Department of Global Health Policy in the Graduate School of Medicine, along with assistant professors Akira Shibanuma, MS, and Shuhei Nomura, MS. The Department of Global Health Policy has the stated goal of “transforming global health policy through best possible evidence and developing next-generation leaders who can actively contribute to solving global health issues.”

”I understand you have a particular focus and interest in aging, as do we,” Perman observed. “It’s an important issue in the United States and we need to better prepare our professionals.”

Shibuya agreed. “I’m sure there’s a growing interest in this, even in the United States where it’s quite young and dynamic, in terms of social security and health care,” he said.

Both nations face challenges with aging populations and declining birth rates. More than one in four (26 percent) Japanese citizens are 65 year old or older. In the U.S., that figure is just over 15 percent, lower than Japan, but almost double the 1950 figure and projected to rise to 22 percent by 2050 at the peak of the Baby Boom generation.

Another possible collaboration under discussion is a course examining emerging trends in global health and global health policy.

“I really wish to continue our dialogue on this,” Shibuya concluded.

“This will have an impact. It will be a good thing to do,” Jarrell answered. “So, I look forward to it.”