TUNECC makes a case for collaborative competition

The annual Tufts New England Case Competition (TUNECC) is a unique, student-organized venture that brings together outstanding teams of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from multiple disciplines and institutions to solve a current life sciences business problem. Each year, the TUNECC Executive Board together with the Center for the Study of Drug Development (CSDD) choose a relevant topic that incorporates both therapeutic and business components to be the focus of the all-day case competition and following panel discussion. Previous years’ topics included new market entry assessment of biologics and post-merger and acquisition integration strategy for a large pharma and an antibiotics biotech. This year the teams tackled Research & Development (R&D) productivity of immuno-oncology field on the example of Juno Therapeutics, a T-cell therapy clinical stage biotech. In addition, a career fair ran throughout the competition, facilitating more opportunities for related conversations and also networking between participants and sponsors.

Two weeks prior to the competition–which took place on August 5th–the assembled teams received their case and were given ten days to brainstorm and structure solutions to the proposed problem. At the competition, the teams presented their proposals in several rounds that were judged by representatives from contributing sponsor companies. For this third year of TUNECC, 17 teams consisting of students from a total of 17 academic institutions nationwide participated, with 5 teams competing in the final round. A first-place prize of $2000 was awarded to the team JT Consulting Solution from Tufts University & Boston University, while second place went to Pennovation, a University of Pennsylvania team ($1000), and third place to Chiron Consulting, a team of students from Vanderbilt University, University of Rochester, University of Arizona and Duke University ($500).

The participating teams this year were highly competitive and deeply engaged in the subject matter, which carried over into a lively discussion during the panel discussion portion of the event. Representatives from sponsoring companies spoke to their experiences with managing company growth and investment to maximize R&D productivity, or rather “doing the best science you can do but also being the most productive.” This conversation evolved as the panel went on, touching on where and why the industry is struggling, the pros and cons of small biotech versus ‘big pharma’ models, and hurdles to approval, pricing, and regulation in drug development. The depth and breadth of the discussion showed how closely intertwined these topics are when considering science in the business setting.

In addition to the high degree of participant engagement, the variety of Tufts programs (multiple Sackler and Medford graduate programs as well as the School of Medicine) and academic institutions from across the country represented at TUNECC is a key component to its continual success. Such cross-institutional collaboration encourages broader thinking and discussion by providing new and different perspectives for each participant to consider when tackling life sciences business problems. The increasing commitment of sponsors from life sciences consulting business sectors also strengthened the event, with the number of sponsoring companies increasing to 11 total this year, almost double the number at the event’s initiation. Not only did this impact the case competition itself but also the day-long career fair and topical panel discussion by providing richer opportunities for forming cross-discipline connections. This achievement was a highlight for this year’s TUNECC Chair Alexandra Taracanova (Pharmacology), who commented that it was rewarding to see “industry being supportive…and interested for what we offer as an event” and was very satisficed by “great talent at Tufts being supported by corporate firms.”

Jennifer Nwankwo, PhD (Pharmacology ‘16) was presented with The Founder’s Award of Excellence for founding, leadership and continues support of TUNECC since the day of its inception in 2014. Additionally more past TUNECC executive members and participants, Julia Keith, PhD (Microbiology ‘15) Hailing Yang, PhD (CMP ‘15), Julie Coleman, PhD (Neuroscience ‘16), Michael Baldwin, PhD (CMP ‘15), and Ben Dake, PhD (CMDB ‘15), attended as judges, sponsor representatives, or simply enthusiastic observers this year, providing the event with increased continuity and a strong network of individuals who return and share their experiences in transitioning from academia to life sciences business.

TUNECC will continue to build on its great momentum in the coming year under the direction of Andrew Coleman (Neuroscience). Applications for new Executive Board members will open in December while applications for case competition teams will open sometime in Spring 2017 for the 4th Annual TUNECC in late Summer 2017. To find out more about TUNECC and previous events visit our website.

Corporate Sponsors: Back Bay Life Science Advisors, The Decision Resources Group, Clarion Healthcare, McKinsey & Company, Putnam Associates, CBPartners, Simon-Kucher & Partners, The Boston Consulting Group, L.E.K. Consulting, ClearView Healthcare Partners, and TechAtlas Group of RA Capital Management.

Additional Support: Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development and Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.