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BLOG: Why you, as an academic researcher, should collaborate with industry

June 26 2017

With the growing competitiveness in the funding arena, researchers are now more than ever expected to realise impact for science, industry and society. Funding bodies are increasingly calling for public-private partnerships to reduce the translational gap between university laboratory and market. While you might feel that industry has little to offer you and vice versa, fruitful partnerships with life sciences companies will bring advantages besides meeting the eligibility criteria of your next grant application.

What is in it for industry?

Companies in the life sciences industry face immense hurdles on their path to commercial success and are challenged by long development times, patent expiry, and increasing R&D complexity and cost (e.g. the number of new drugs for every billion dollars of R&D has dropped about 80-fold since 1950). These companies need to continuously innovate in order to secure a competitive product pipeline. Collaboration with academic research groups provides access to highly skilled talent, specialised expertise and state-of-the-art equipment and facilities. For example, new animal models, patient databases and other unique infrastructure such as human tissue banks provide unique opportunities for the validation of identified targets and pathways. Whereas industry is often focused on minimising risk exposure, academic scientists have the freedom to perform the breakthrough research and disruptive science needed for transformative innovation. Leveraging this unique environment allows life sciences companies to diversify their drug and technology portfolio with little risk and high return on investment. Furthermore, alliances with top scientists increase the credibility of the company to investors and other stakeholders, while building a network of key opinion leaders that might endorse future products.

What is in it for academia?

Academic scientists are under increasing pressure to obtain funding from external sources. Collaboration with industry provides several interesting alternatives to finance your research, ranging from fee-for-service to shared research projects. Furthermore, industry can offer you the opportunity to help develop solutions for real-life problems and bring your academic science towards application. It is extremely rewarding to see your knowledge translated into tools that address an unmet clinical need and benefit patients, and a productive relationship with a commercial partner can accelerate this process. Additionally, life sciences companies offer their own specific expertise, ranging from market intelligence to high-throughput technologies, that can help you identify new problems to tackle and speed up your research endeavours. Lastly, successful collaboration with industry will provide evidence of your excellence as an all-round scientist that drives innovation and has the capacity (and the network) to bring about a positive change for society, which will add to your credibility in each following grant application.

How does it work?

Keep in mind that we are not encouraging you to set up 20 industry collaborations in the coming week. Instead, focus on establishing a couple productive partnerships that can turn into true alliances. Find company representatives that you share a vision with, and then continue to build on that relationship. First, define the scope of the collaboration and manage expectations. Make a solid plan in which objectives, deliverables and milestones are agreed upon, so that you can measure the success of the collaboration. Discuss the financial terms, how resources are to be contributed (e.g. in kind or in cash?) and how decisions are made. Make sure a publication strategy is in place, so that new intellectual propriety arising from the collaboration is not jeopardised. Does this sound familiar? Establishing your first industry relationships is not too different from developing a strong grant application, in which predefined tasks and clearly defined roles and responsibilities should always be a prime focus.

Request assistance

Are you interested in taking the first steps to industrial collaboration, or do you want to know how to leverage your current network? At ttopstart we speak the language of both the academic scientist and the life sciences entrepreneur. We take pride in developing partnerships that can change life sciences and healthcare for the best. Feel free to contact us for assistance!

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Karlijn Bastiaansen, PhD