Bio-Battelle Featured

12:22pm EDT May 31, 2002
Carl Kohrt moves quickly for a scientist. The 58-year-old chemist turned Kodak executive is already making an impact as the new CEO of the Battelle Memorial Institute.

Since arriving last fall, Kohrt's been working on ways to increase revenue at the billion-dollar R&D enterprise. One major area of focus: biotechnology.

"It's our sweet spot," he says.

His timing couldn't be better. With nearly half a million jobs and more than $22 billion in revenue, the life sciences industry is drawing considerable interest from state governors and many cities across the nation. Following the examples of states like North Carolina (home of the famed Research Triangle Park), Ohio officials are scrambling to jump on the biotech bandwagon and claim their own piece of the pie.

And if Battelle's own tradition of innovation isn't enough -- among the products it can stake a claim to bringing to market are the copy machine and the compact disc -- it recently forged a strategic research alliance with The Ohio State University Medical Center, which has been busy doing its own biomedical research and making a name for itself in the fields of cardiology and cancer research.

The two research giants have collaborated on specific projects over the years, but no major effort has ever been made to develop a formal agreement to work together on a broad range of projects. Kohrt turned to OSU President Brit Kirwan to get the ball rolling.

"We saw an opportunity to build on our strengths and have the two institutions work together," Kohrt says.

OSU brings a practicing medical facility to the partnership; Battelle brings years of R&D experience and, perhaps more important, a track record of turning research into commercial products. That brings money as well as acclaim.

The concept quickly gathered support in both organizations, Kohrt says.

"If an important initiative depends on one or two people, it isn't very strong. But the value was seen here throughout the organization, and that will carry it through," he says.

Once Kohrt and Kirwan agreed it was in both institutions' best interests to work together, they each pulled in key people to flesh out the arrangement: Dr. Fred Sanfilippo, OSU medical researcher, and Rich Rosen, Battelle's senior vice president and general manager of its health care products sector.

Forging a partnership

The partnership got researchers' buy-in because they felt the two organizations could make a bigger impact together than alone, says Battelle's Rosen.

"We all felt a larger impact could be made if we proactively search for major areas for collaboration. And that is a process of discovery," he says.

The two organizations are still working to uncover each other's mutual strengths.

"The more we learn about each other, we discover areas where we can leverage our shared strengths," he says.

OSU -- as well as the community at large -- stands to gain real benefits from the joint venture, OSU's Sanfilippo contends.

"We'll gain from Battelle's technology transfer expertise in transitioning intellectual property. And in addition to the knowledge gained, commercialization of the discoveries can translate into the creation of high-tech jobs," he says.

The partnership will continue as long as both organizations reap the benefits, says Sanfilippo.

"There is no end point to this arrangement," he says. "We both hope to grow and see the mutual benefit of doing so."

At the same time, both organizations are keeping their options open.

"This partnership is unique, but we are developing partnerships with other organizations," says Sanfilippo.

Finding the killer product

Still in its early stages, the relationship between the two entities is taking shape, as key employees of the partners meet to define areas of collaboration.

"Our signature areas of collaboration will become defined over time," Sanfilippo says.

Battelle's Rosen, who is involved in commercializing products that come out of the R&D process, is less coy.

"Ultimately, we want to target issues of major impact," he says. "It's very possible we'll be looking at cardiovascular disease and cancer."

The powerful combination of Battelle's research facilities and OSU's practicing medical center and applied research may well lead to a new flow of ideas and products.

"Our signature areas will be those where we can make an impact nationally or internationally, where we couldn't have made an impact alone," Rosen says. "Our mutual focus is narrow but deep."

And the hope on both sides of the partnership is that the discoveries it produces will spark the start-up of new companies and jobs in the area.

"We'd like to be the fuel for start-up businesses," says Rosen, "or bring other, larger companies to the table."

Adds Sanfilippo: "We are not purposefully looking at bringing other companies in (to this partnership), but if we see others add value, we may want them to be involved."

A biotech capital?

While bringing together the two organizations is an exciting prospect, is it enough to draw interest from established and budding companies in the industry?

"Columbus is a rich arena for starting companies, and not just in the life sciences," Kohrt contends. "And Columbus is still a good place to live. We offer an educated work force and a large university population."

The role of the life sciences industry in the state is definitely building, says John Lewis, regional director of the Edison BioTechnology Center's Columbus office. "We're seeing a great deal of growth in Ohio and a great deal of interest. It's very exciting."

With offices in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Athens, the EBTC has been encouraging the development of biotech companies in the state since its inception. According to EBTC officials, there are more than 350 companies in Ohio involved in the biomedical industry, with annual revenue of more than $10 billion and 14,000 employees.

But Kohrt warns the biotech industry should not become Ohio's only drawing card.

"It would be very dangerous and unfortunate to focus solely on this industry when developing the state's businesses," he says. "Life sciences is one growth area -- but we are just adding another car to the train." How to reach: Battelle, (614) 424-6424 or www.battelle.org; OSU Medical Center, (614) 293-8000 or www.osumedcenter.edu


Carl F. Kohrt

Carl Kohrt is no stranger to leading a large research effort. At Eastman Kodak, he worked his way up the ranks from research scientist to chief technology officer to assistant chief operating officer before retiring in July 2000.

While at Kodak his accomplishments included:

* Discovering or commercializing entirely new color imaging systems

* Revamping the intellectual property process to help Kodak become a leader in patents among Fortune 500 companies

* Transforming R&D from a functional organization into one aligned with specific market-oriented portfolios and the entry into digital and networked businesses

* Developing the Corporate Diversity Council to provide strategies and policies for increasing the representation of diverse constituencies to all regions and to all levels within the corporation.

Kohrt's academic background includes a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Furman University, a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Chicago and a master's in management science from the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

A key trait that appealed to Battelle's board in hiring Kohrt was his varied background at Kodak, according to Chairman John B. McCoy.

"Carl Kohrt is an outstanding choice to lead Battelle into the future," McCoy said at the time of Kohrt's hiring. "He has a great blend of science and technology, business, R&D management, and commercialization skills. In addition, he has vast experience across commercial and government markets and a strong track record of bringing breakthrough products and solutions to the marketplace."

As CEO, Kohrt oversees a complex organization with activities in three major revenue sources: contract research, co-managing government science labs and applying scientific research to develop products.

"My job is to oversee our three business components and ensure that they all grow, interact with each other, and that we draw from our strengths," he says.