Debrief: CSHL’s Whiteley fills shoes, answers needs

Executive training: After three years as Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's first-ever Executive in Residence, Andrew Whiteley has succeeded Teri Willey as CSHL's head of commercialization operations.

A seasoned veteran of scientific- and medical-research commercialization, Andrew Whiteley stepped up this month to take over Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s technology-transfer operations from Teri Willey, who served five years as CSHL’s vice president of business development and technology transfer and is off to her next adventure, running an Indiana-based VC fund. Whiteley, who in 2015 was named the laboratory’s first-ever Executive in Residence, assumes control of a dedicated team focused on licensing, business formation, professional partnerships and other business-building protocols related to CSHL’s world-class scientific research. The former COO of NYC-based Enzo Biochem brings three decades of life-sciences experience to his new role, but knows he has big shoes to fill – and some busy days ahead, as Cold Spring Harbor researchers churn out some truly impressive (and highly marketable) innovations. According to the new biz-development VP: 

Willey veteran: I’m excited to follow on from Teri, who did an amazing job of establishing the Office of Technology Transfer. I’m delighted that she did such a great job, because it makes it easier to come in and build on her work. Teri provided a really strong foundation – we’ve put the foundation stones in place, now we’re going to develop on those stones.

All in: And it’s not just me. It’s a team of people who are interacting to achieve what we want to do as an organization.

Mission briefing: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has a long history of game-changing basic research with potential to benefit society, and CSHL needs to find the right partners in industry, finance, medicine, etc., to make this happen. The laboratory’s scientists need to focus on what they do best – the job of the Business Development and Technology Transfer team is to add their expertise and the right partners outside of CSHL.

Thirty years later…: I don’t think [commercialization] is harder. The opportunities to take work done in places like CSHL to the marketplace have increased. But it’s become a little bit more complicated, in the sense that the technologies that are developed now require a much more comprehensive effort to make them [commercially ready].

New York, on the global innovation scale: I’ve worked in commercialization in Europe, in California and on the East Coast. The New York ecosystem has grown dramatically. We’re seen the emergence of a large number of incubator sites that are feeding small and medium-sized business interests, and we’re starting to see an investment community grow on both the angel and VC levels.

First things first: There’s still more work to do, but the first challenge for companies is to get that initial funding, which can help get them to a point where they can accelerate and grow quickly.

Island allies: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory science thrives because of collaboration across scientific disciplines and with other institutions on Long Island, across the country and around the world. Our president, Bruce Stillman, has always been a proponent and at the table with his peers in other Long Island research powerhouses, like [Stony Brook University] and [Brookhaven National Laboratory] and the Northwell Health system.

Spreading it around: The great thing about CSHL is that the laboratory doesn’t just focus on one research area. Our scientists are involved in research on diseases like cancer and neurological disorders like autism and depression, but we’re also studying how to understand the normal brain and things like decision-making. We’re involved in the latest genome-sequencing technologies, where there are so many applications for human health, agriculture, the environment and even the law. And there’s also the whole area of plant biology here, which has huge implications for feeding the planet and finding viable alternative-energy sources.

Speeding it up: I’m most excited about the chance to work with leading global scientists and find ways that they might not have thought about to bring their research more quickly and impactfully into people’s lives.

A long and busy climb: I’m most frightened by the sheer number of opportunities that exist and the need to keep in touch with all our scientists. The good news is that it means I have to climb the 10 flights of stairs to our main lab facility every day to interact with the teams. It certainly keeps up my ‘steps.’

Interview by Gregory Zeller

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