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New graduate certificate could give students ‘10-15 years experience’ in four courses

Raghuraman Kannan stands in front of a class of students seated at tables.

Raghuraman Kannan, an Raghu Kannan, associate professor of radiology and bioengineering, teaches a class of students participating in the Life Science Innovation and Entrepreneurship graduate certificate.

Medical, engineering and business students historically don’t sit in the same classes at a major university, or share many of the same passions. The inception of a new program open to graduate and professional students called the Life Science Innovation and Entrepreneurship graduate certificate at the University of Missouri, aims to change that.

The graduate certificate, which is being offered for the first time in the 2014 spring semester, represents a collaborative effort between MU’s Trulaske College of Business, College of Engineering and School of Medicine, and intends to provide a cross-discipline education to students working toward earning the certificate.

To obtain the certificate, students are required to complete three courses and one elective course. The three required courses each focus on a specific area involved in life sciences innovation and are principally taught by one of the three colleges participating in the program.

The program’s purpose is to educate students across various disciplines about the commercialization of new medical technologies, both devices and pharmaceuticals. Students learn the steps involved in creating a medical innovation and the process of getting the technology to the healthcare market.

“This is a broad market-driven program, meaning there’s a big demand for these skills,” said David Schmidt, an MU Extension associate professor of the Small Business Development Center who also is an instructor of industrial engineering. Schmidt also helped design the curriculum for the program’s three courses.

“From the student’s point of view, companies are wanting people with the skillsets to move a product from innovation to commercialization.” There aren’t many academic programs like this in the country, he said.

The first course is taught by Raghu Kannan, an associate professor of radiology and bioengineering, through the School of Medicine and delves into the nature of discovery and how ideas are first developed. Students also will cover intellectual property rights and how to engage in research with industry partners.

Students enrolled in the first course benefit from guest lectures by people in various disciplines, including cardiologists and researchers working on treatments for breast tumors. The 19 students enrolled in the course’s first semester have broken into teams to develop their ideas further and follow those ideas through during the remaining two courses.

“Ninety percent of the pharmaceutical industry works with MBAs and scientists,” Kannan said. “It takes two to three years to learn that whole process on your own. By taking this graduate certificate program, they’ll already have learned this, and when they enter the pharmaceutical industry, they understand what’s expected of them, and they don’t have to go through the hard way of learning.”

Matthew Davis is a first year MBA student enrolled in the first course toward the certificate. He has worked as a lab manager at the School of Medicine for four years and hopes to one day work in marketing analytics in a healthcare setting.

“Coming from that background, I get to see advances of biotechnology and can see the potential going into it,” Davis said. “I can see the whole process, from bench-top in the lab to developing the drug or creating the device. It’s very good to see the whole process, but it’s also daunting.”

The second course, primarily taught from an engineering perspective, further develops the ideas created by students during the first course and helps teams identify a solution for an identified clinical need in the healthcare industry. The course details how to obtain approval through Food and Drug Administration regulations, as well as how to develop designs and prototypes that match their ideas.

The third course is primarily focused on the business aspects of innovation and teaches students how to commercialize their technologies. Students will also learn how to assess the market value of their solutions and existing competition in the healthcare industry.

The certificate is designed to allow students to move through the program as a cohort of fellow students, by taking one of the three courses in sequence for three semesters. This model is intended to be beneficial for students academically as well as socially, since the program involves team and pair work, Schmidt said.

With the completion of the graduate certificate, Kannan said he feels confident students will have gained 10 to 15 years of experience in just four courses by learning how to communicate across disciplines and becoming familiar with the process from idea inception to marketing a product, he said.

“If I’d had the opportunity to take these courses I would have done it and saved a lot of crucial years,” Kannan said.