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Industry Insights: Positioning Your Research to a Commercial Partner

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Much of the research conducted at our hospitals is applied to finding new treatments for some of the world’s most intractable diseases.  Collaborating with an industry partner on this research can be essential to keeping the research focused on a commercially viable path that leads to development of the new drugs, devices, and diagnostics of tomorrow.  The fourth Symposium Series session, held at Simches on January 24th, focused on discussing issues inherent in conducting industry sponsored research at an academic research hospital.  The session included two panels, with biopharma research scientists on the first panel and Partners-affiliated research faculty on the second panel.  Both panels discussed the experiences and issues related to academic-industry research collaborations.

Panelists discussed the following:

  • Effectively positioning one’s research, putting compelling narratives together, and building the case with a sponsor regarding the research collaboration
  • Companies’ motivations in funding biomedical research at the hospitals
  • Characteristics of successful industry research collaborations and best practices from the perspective of industry and our research faculty
  • Challenges inherent with industry-sponsored research and common pitfalls to avoid

 

The first panel included senior research scientists from biopharma – Nadar Halim, PhD from Pfizer (Senior Director, External Science & Innovation); Sridar Natesan, PhD from sanofi (Vice-President, Strategic Initiatives & Scientific Relations); and Anthony Bannon, PhD from Abbvie (External Project Director, Neuroscience Discovery).  The panel was moderated by Innovation’s Glenn Miller, PhD (Market Sector Leader).  Together, the panel discussed issues inherent with academic-industry research collaborations from the point-of-view of biopharma.

First panel from left to right: Glenn Miller PhD, Anthony Bannon, PhD, Nader Halim, PhD and Sridar Natesan

When asked about sanofi’s expectations in funding academic research, Dr. Natesan confirmed that sanofi is trying “to put something in our pipeline…so the research project has to be somewhat shovel ready.”  Sridar also stated that they “select projects where there is an early stage novel molecule, or with the means to get to an early stage novel chemical entity within a two to three-year timeframe. That forms the basis of our funding.”

Dr. Halim from Pfizer noted that, “oftentimes there’s a little bit of a different standard, frankly, between industry and academia and with regard to what we consider is a research tool compound and what academic scientists believe is a therapeutic compound and what we need to do next,” he said. “So, I think being open-ended and flexible with your research collaborations is important.  Drug development is a science in and of itself…so trusting your industry partner, and finding the right academic collaborator is important.”

Dr. Bannon was asked to elaborate on the characteristics of a successful collaboration with Abbvie’s Neurology focus. He said, “The [research collaborations] that are working well are literally the ones where AbbVie is bringing something to the table and the collaborator also brings something to the table.” He continued, “For us, a lot of our collaborations are focused on the basic science, because we’re trying to learn and teach ourselves about the underlying biological mechanisms…and that will make us a better drug hunter in the end.”

The second panel focused on the perspectives of MGH research faculty with industry sponsored research and included:  Susan Cotman, PhD (Assistant Professor, Neurology); Conor Evans, PhD (Assistant Professor, Dermatology); and Alan Mullen, MD, PhD (Assistant Professor, Medicine).  The panel was moderated by Innovation’s Emy Chen, PhD (Director of Licensing).

Panel two from left to right: Emy Chen, PhD, Susan Cotman, PhD, Conor Evans, PhD, Alan Mullen, MD, PhD.

When asked how Dr. Cotman first engaged industry, she answered, “I actually have one of the Sanofi iAwards…it was really a proposal submitted in response sanofi’s call for proposals…and the second time [she applied she] was selected for funding.” She continued highlighting how other collaborations with industry came about. “With other companies it’s been through networking and identifying people inside the company you want to work with.” Finally, she’s also received funding as a result of her work in Batten disease and her academic reputation within this research community.

Dr. Evans elaborated on how research budgets are established in his lab when they have funding from an industrial partner. “The industry collaborations that have worked really well are when there’s a lot of communication back and forth and there’s a true research collaboration. I’ve come right out and asked them, ‘What kind of research scope are you thinking about supporting?  How far do you want to go?  What does your timeline look like?’” He continued, “At the outset, being very open and transparent about objectives and timelines is extremely important. It’s essential that you communicate with your sponsor about your budget requirements.  ‘This is what I mean to do; are you okay with that?’  Having open conversations at the beginning of the research collaboration has been helpful for us to outline realistic budgets and timelines, and successful projects kick off from those initial conversations.”

It was a packed house at the MGH with great audience questions

Dr. Mullen then tackled the question of how he establishes priorities among the different research projects ongoing in his lab which receive support from industry or NIH. “I’ve learned that I can actually do more basic research in fibrosis that ask some fundamental research questions with an industry sponsor than I thought would be the case because those same questions are also of interest to them.  And so, I’m always thinking of ways that we can do experiments that will inform us on a basic research level and relate to the other model systems we’re working on.  I consider how we can use the experiments from industry sponsored research projects to conduct a bit more basic research that we’re also very interested in.”

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For more information about the Symposium Series, or to contact Partners HealthCare Innovation click here.