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Johnson Center for Innovation and Translational Research announces new name, expanded mission


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — A monthslong effort to shift the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship in Biotechnology’s mission is complete, as it now boasts a new name, a broader base of campus constituents and an updated website.

The organization is now known as the Johnson Center for Innovation and Translational Research, or JCITR. The new name was approved by the Indiana University Board of Trustees in October and recently made official by President Michael A. McRobbie, said Keith R. Davis, the center’s director.

The move not only addressed a need to lessen confusion with its cross-campus counterpart, the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Kelley School of Business. It also reflects an expanded mission to serve all schools, departments and disciplines throughout the Bloomington campus, rather than only those ventures related to biotechnology or other fields within the College of Arts and Sciences.

Yet JCITR’s core directive is unchanged. It aims to boost the participation of faculty, researchers and students in translational research and the commercialization of research discoveries by working with industry partners and creating new companies.

“Our new name truly captures the core focus of our mission to enhance innovation across the Bloomington campus and will provide an identity for our unique position within IU’s research community,” Davis said. “We hope faculty will come to recognize JCITR as the place where they can get hands-on assistance with building a translational research program and commercializing their discoveries.”

Vice Provost for Research Rick Van Kooten said the move reinforces IU’s commitment through its Bicentennial Strategic Plan to build a prosperous and innovative Indiana, in part by establishing a culture of “building and making” statewide.

“I am truly excited that the expertise of the Johnson Center is now broadening to encompass the entire Bloomington campus,” Van Kooten said. “Innovation and translational research are key drivers of research excellence. The skills and services offered through JCITR are invaluable to IU researchers, particularly as we move forward with our Grand Challenges program and a new Emerging Areas of Research program.”

Members of JCITR’s staff, or “discovery team,” work to make it easy and efficient for faculty to bring their ideas or inventions to market while continuing to focus on their core strengths in basic research. Such duties include:

  • Working with faculty to identify current and new research that can attract commercial contracts or be translated into products that may lead to the launch of Spin Up companies or startup ventures;
  • Collaborating with the IU Research and Technology Corp. and Office of Research Administration to help faculty submit grant applications;
  • Identifying industry partners and negotiating industry contracts in concert with the ORA;
  • Working with the IURTC to help faculty protect their intellectual property and establish companies when appropriate;
  • Providing project-management support for faculty involved in industry-funded research;
  • Assisting with communications by reporting to industry partners during projects;
  • Developing strategies to increase the use of core university facilities by industry partners.

“Tier 1 research universities like IU are the primary drivers of discovery in today’s world,” said Larry Singell, executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Translating research into practical, useful forms is one of our essential contributions to a better world. So JCITR is central to IU’s mission to generate research in ways that benefit the state, the U.S. and the world.”

JCITR has taken several steps to expand its profile since Davis — formerly a professor at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, as well as a research director and vice president of a multimillion-dollar biotech company — became its first director in December 2014.

  • In April, the center hosted itsinaugural Innovation Conference, which introduced IU Bloomington faculty to available resources that support translational research. Its speakers included Mapp Biopharmaceuticals CEO Kevin Whaley, whose company co-developed ZMapp, the experimental Ebola drug used to treat U.S. aid workers Nancy Writebol and Kent Brantly in 2014. Brantly is a 2009 graduate of the IU School of Medicine.
  • In June, JCITR awarded a total of $104,230 to five IU Bloomington professors through its newly established Translational Research Pilot Grant Program. Launched in February, the program funds proof-of-concept research with commercial potential.
  • In July, the center’s mission was expanded to include all schools, departments and disciplines throughout the Bloomington campus. The center recently unveiled an updated website that reflects its expanded mission.
  • In August, the center strengthened its ties with the IURTC by adding IURTC technology manager Wesley Pennington as a discovery scientist to its staff. Pennington consults with researchers on the Bloomington campus and in JCITR to encourage and assist startup business activity.

History of the Johnson Center

The Johnson Center’s name recognizes substantial contributions by Dick and Ruth Johnson to Indiana University, along with their advocacy for entrepreneurship and collaboration between industry and IU faculty. Ruth and her late husband founded Johnson Oil Co., a small distributor of Shell Oil petroleum products in Columbus, Ind., and later added the Bigfoot Food Store chain. It became one of the nation’s largest privately owned gasoline-convenience store chains.

The Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, established at the Kelley School of Business in 1998, is named in honor of the Johnson family’s $1 million gift. In 2003, an additional $1 million, 10-year pledge established the Johnson Family Fund, which supports JCEI.

In 2013, Ruth Johnson agreed to change the name of JCEI’s space at Simon Hall to the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship in Biotechnology to reflect its repurposing to support IU’s biotechnology program. In 2014, the center hired its own staff and initially focused its efforts on the College of Arts and Sciences. In July, its mission expanded to the entire Bloomington campus, followed by its name change to the Johnson Center for Innovation and Translational Research.

About the Johnson Center: The Johnson Center for Innovation and Translational Research works with faculty throughout the IU Bloomington campus to identify current and new research programs that hold commercial potential and to protect intellectual property. Based at Simon Hall, it also assists with grant applications, identifying industry partners, negotiating industry contracts, project-management support and developing strategies to increase the use of core IU facilities by industry partners.

About IURTC and Innovate Indiana: IURTC is a not-for-profit agency that helps IU faculty and researchers realize the commercial potential of their discoveries. Since 1997, IURTC’s university clients have accounted for more than 2,800 inventions, nearly 1,900 patent applications and more than 80 startup companies. IURTC is part of the Innovate Indiana initiative, which engages strategic partners to leverage and advance IU’s intellectual resources and expertise, enhance Indiana’s economic growth, and contribute to the overall quality of life for Hoosiers. Indiana University is designated as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. This recognizes IU’s commitment across all its campuses to being a leading institution in fostering regional economic development.

Author: Dana Palazzo

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