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The paper trail to commercialization

A survey of Nature Biotechnology's authors reveals many paths to commercial success.

Nature Biotechnology claims to be the journal “that brings research out of the laboratory and into the marketplace.” But how many of the papers published in our pages ultimately see the light of day in commercial enterprises? And what are the paths that research takes on its way to becoming successful products?

Last year, as part of our 10th anniversary celebration, we contacted authors who had published research with us over the previous ten years to evaluate how (and whether) their work had been commercialized. Judging by the number of respondents, the majority of research that we publish never is directly carried forward into products. This is not surprising—making it in the marketplace is just one measure of a successful research program; some work, no matter that it is groundbreaking and conceptually interesting, simply won't translate into a product or drug (or only translates many years later after another advance removes a hurdle to commercialization). Conversely, work described in papers that receive relatively few citations can sometimes turn into commercial gold.

We present here the experiences of several authors (who responded to our survey) attempting to commercialize their work. We follow their stories—what has happened to the discoveries in the years since they published them and what paths they took to put their ideas and inventions into the public domain. We made no attempt to capture all such programs from our large list of authors. Thus, this is not meant to be a comprehensive look at what has transpired from all the work we publish, just a snapshot.

More than half of those we spoke with have been involved in starting a company and a number either are joining, or will soon join, the ranks of serial entrepreneurs. Several discoveries have been packaged up as research tools, and can be purchased today. Other researchers have translated their original findings into human therapeutics that are now wending their way through clinical trials.

New routes to commercialization

Out of left field, into the mainstream

Industrial R&D glimpsed

Undersupported, but undaunted

Timing is everything

Too far ahead of the curve?

Letting go

Master disseminator

High-throughput path to acquisition

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Kling, J., DeFrancesco, L. The paper trail to commercialization. Nat Biotechnol 25, 1217 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt1107-1217a

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