Photo: Andrew Brookes
What decides whether a scientific discovery becomes a real breakthrough for patients?
The obvious answer would be excellent science, conducted by brilliant teams with great facilities. That’s absolutely true – but it’s not enough.
At organisations like The Institute of Cancer Research here in London, there is another critical dimension. We also need to work with industry to commercialise our discoveries if we’re to maximise the benefit our work has for patients.
Partnering with industry
At the ICR, we’re experts at this – a new Times Higher Education (THE) report places us in the top 10 universities worldwide for collaboration with industry.
According to the THE ranking, more than 6% of our publications are in collaboration with industry partners, which places us above other world-leading universities such as the Karolinska Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Almost all universities around the country these days have knowledge exchange teams – they go by a variety of different names but have the job of partnering with industry and commercialising research.
At the ICR this function is the responsibility of our Enterprise Unit.
Collaborations between academia and industry are one of the most important ways of ensuring that research has public benefit, and are vitally important too for the UK economy.
The parliamentary Science and Technology Select Committee recently held an inquiry into how universities – through their knowledge exchange (or technology transfer) offices – manage intellectual property and its use by businesses.
The ICR responded by explaining how our Enterprise Unit makes decisions that balance the need to ensure fair return for our research with our mission to exploit that research for the greatest public benefit.
Putting patients first
At the ICR, the patient is always put first – even when this may result in a lower eventual income. When we license a biomarker, for instance, we ensure it is not done on an exclusive basis so that a range of solutions can be developed and patients have a range of options – a practice that may seem counterintuitive to some businesses.
Government support through Higher Education Innovation Funding helps maintain a flexible and diverse approach to partnering at the ICR that is critical to our success.
We also strongly believe that it is important to be able to draw on the experience of staff who have worked in industry – which we believe helps to break down barriers between sectors.
Increasing demand for collaboration
We were pleased to see that the final report focused on ways to stimulate demand from businesses for university collaborations and identified the need to balance competing priorities. It also highlighted one of the concerns we raised – that the current arrangements for VAT that are biased against buildings designed to be shared between academia and industry, should be reviewed.
The report and the Government’s recently released industrial strategy green paper will help to put a new focus on the importance of working with industry.
It’s something the ICR has long believed in – as an essential step in taking many of our most exciting discoveries to patients.
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