Ensuring excellent research outcomes translate into commercially successful products is a big issue for EU science policy. But an Irish medical researcher, one of the youngest ever leaders of a COST Action, seems to have found the key to success. Martin O’Halloran was Vice Chair of COST Action Development of a European-based Collaborative Network to Accelerate Technological, Clinical and Commercialisation Progress in the Area of Medical Microwave Imaging and has since been awarded five European Research Council (ERC) grants.
Martin O’Halloran had just completed his PhD at the National University of Ireland at Galway when he first got involved with COST. “My doctorate was on the use of Microwave Imaging (MWI) to detect early-stage breast cancer,” explains Martin. “And in 2010-2011 I was exploring how to get involved with international groups and in particular how to move my research outcomes into the clinic or the commercial marketplace.”
He was shocked to find that little medical device research moved into actual clinical testing and even less resulted in commercial devices. “There was a massive translational gap out of the lab and into the market,” says Martin. “So, rather naively, with a colleague in Lisbon University – Raquel Conceição – I wrote a COST application to bring together researchers to disseminate knowledge and accelerate commercialisation.” “To be honest neither of us knew much about COST at the time and we later found out that we were the youngest ever applicants!” continues Martin. “But we ended up leading a group of 180 researchers across Europe on commercialisation aspects of MWI technologies.”
This was an important career boost for Martin. Every six months the Action brought together all the leading experts in his field to talk about their translational experiences involving all parts of the innovation chain from basic research to manufacturers, finance providers and device users. The Action resulted in several MWI devices coming to market.
With this success Martin started to look at other medical applications and clinical needs outside breast cancer. “Currently in my group I have 23 active medical device projects with almost 60 researchers,” says Martin. “All of this work is based on learnings from the COST Action.”
“It is essential that research moves out of the lab and into the market, but to be a successful entrepreneur takes a special type of person,” claims Martin. “However, through the COST Action we learnt that there is a process, and it is repeatable.” Last year he was granted six patents – all of which are commercially licensed.
Martin sees one of the great values of COST being the huge reach of its learnings and their practical use. “COST events take the best, most useful parts of international conferences and gives them focus so you only get the really relevant stuff,” says Martin. He sees COST as an excellent entry point for researchers with ambition to engage with larger EU projects: opening doors and enabling you to meet the “real doers – the crucial handful of people you need to know”. Since the COST Action, Martin has gained five ERC grants: one starter grant and four proof of concept awards covering areas such as women’s health and chronic pain, but all based on the fundamentals covered in the COST Action.
“The COST Action helped us to recognise patterns in the innovation chain,” concludes Martin. “To see what investors, need and understand the common strategies for success.”
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