Honors Gallery

Establishment of First Federal Technology Transfer Ambassadors Program

Award: Rookie of the Year

Year: 2017

Award Type:

Region: Mid-Atlantic

National Cancer Institute (NCI)

The team of Drs. Laura Prestia, Alan Alfano, and Robert Sons, all junior technology transfer (T2) professionals, developed the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) – and National Institute of Health’s (NIH) – first Technology Transfer Ambassadors Program (TTAP). The TTAP is a year-long hybrid training/mentoring immersion for NCI postdoctoral scientists seeking professional development about invention development, commercialization, and entrepreneurship they could not otherwise achieve. It is the first TTAP ever implanted in a federal lab.

The NCI team observed that postdocs were underserved by the T2 community, with engagement focused on primary investigators. They utilized lean start-up customer discovery methodology to determine that postdoctoral awareness of T2 was limited—despite key research contributions. Limited awareness decreased that laboratory’s benefit to the taxpayer in many ways: weaker patents due to rushed filings, loss of valuable patent claims due to the absence of enabling data, and damage to potential patent protection due to premature public disclosure.

Along with increasing T2 awareness, the nominees sought to create a culture with broadened incentives prioritizing further commercial development and characterization of technologies—not just publication as the traditional scientific measure of success. This further characterization allowed for technology de-risking, making it easier for industry partners to ultimately market a technology. Once due diligence to properly define the problem was completed, the nominees developed solutions to combat weaknesses. This solution, which became the TTAP, resulted in buy-in from multiple senior members of NCI and the Technology Transfer Center (TTC), who saw the potential for enhanced licensing and agreement activity.

The team subsequently recruited postdoctoral participants (Ambassadors), designed and launched the program, and managed and coached Ambassadors through targeted marketing, commercial analyses, and several other projects on individual and team levels. The team leveraged a complementary offering from Johns Hopkins University (JHU), as well as NCI TTC’s inaugural 2017 Technology Showcase. Successful outcomes were achieved, including completion of the program by all Ambassadors, multiple invention disclosures and transactional agreements initiated by the Ambassadors, dozens of analyses and presentations informing and supporting NCI patent investment decisions, and improved marketing campaigns for selected NCI technologies.

The impact of the TTAP in its inaugural year, as well as the future, directly stems from the efforts of these three technology transfer professionals in developing and continuing its management. Gearing up for the second year, the team is already handling numerous requests for more information from postdocs across the NIH, including requests from the 2016-2017 class of Ambassadors who are interested in working with the program again. The TTAP has and continues to strive toward creating a lab-to-market mindset across the NCI—fostering entrepreneurial culture change, better connections between T2 and new generations of scientists, and enhancing the efficiency of the NCI TTC’s marketing efforts for technology commercialization.


Alan Alfano

Laura Prestia

Robert Sons

Contact: Dr. Laura Prestia, (240) 276-5491, [email protected]