For the newly minted director of faculty ventures position, CU Innovations needed a jack – and master – of all trades with proven successes in academia and industry. V. Michael Holers, MD, has excelled in every role of his career so far: researcher, clinician, professor, and co-founder, among others. In other words, the perfect fit for director of faculty ventures, a role which he originated in November 2021 and where he can utilize his full range of expertise.
Having helped found three companies, Holers is well-versed in the world of technology transfer. His last venture, Q32 Bio, which develops therapeutics for severe inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, was launched with the support of CU Innovations in 2017. Assistance from the office went beyond intellectual property and patenting, and Holers recalls for the first time having helped with activities including: “outreach with investors, putting together the right kind of pitch deck, thinking creatively about the relationships between the faculty inventors, the funders, and the company, and how the university could participate and invest in those activities.”
As the director of faculty ventures, Holers is now helping CU Innovations deepen its faculty and trainee relationships to better facilitate that very process of translating discoveries into patient impact. He will work directly with individuals to demystify the early questions – “Is there potential for this discovery or idea?”, “Does it address a medical need?”, “Does the innovation have a pathway to commercialization?” – and help move ideas forward through CU Innovations. To start, his first focus is on generating more awareness of CU Innovations’ capabilities among CU Anschutz’s faculty and identifying gaps in the faculty and trainee experience that can be addressed through collaborative efforts.
“I thought I knew CU Innovations, but it is so much bigger and so much more capable, with many more people and much broader expertise and skill sets than I remember from three, four, five years ago,” Holers said of how the office has grown since the days of launching Q32 Bio. As director of faculty ventures, he has been empowered to share that revelation with other faculty members. Through his position as the recent division head of rheumatology and by maintaining his funded research programs, Holers has the breadth of experience to speak to different audiences with both academic and industry interests. His responsibilities will involve both presentations to department chairs, program directors, and division heads and interactions with individuals and small groups at the ground level, with a particular emphasis on early and continued mentorship.
Based on his past experiences, Holers himself has had to find and maintain a balance between an academic career and an industry enterprise. One of his goals will be to build mentorship groups of like-minded faculty and trainees to support each other through the research project and learning opportunity that is the commercialization process. The desired result is a campus culture change around commercialization, to see it as an enjoyable experience where experts can work across disciplines and help maximize the potential for each other’s ideas to positively affect patients’ lives.
Prior to officially joining CU Innovations, Holers was interested in doing something new and different, where he could “join together a strong history of entrepreneurial activities with substantial success and [his] interests in education and mentorship to develop a new program.” Working together with CU Innovations Executive Director Kim Muller, they were able to create the position of director of faculty ventures. Now, Holers has the opportunity to pull from all aspects of his own experiences – basic research, translational and clinical development, academic and commercialization success – to translate that interest, skill set, and capability to other faculty.
Of course, Holers, the CU Anschutz faculty and CU Innovations are not the only ones who stand to benefit from his time and focus on this new role. The ultimate goal is to increase the pipeline of discoveries, by which Holers really means, “increasing the number and quality of discoveries that actually translate to benefit patients.”
Guest contributor: Stephanie So, CU Innovations