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Commercial link-ups that take discoveries to patients

Posted on 31 January, 2014 by Liz Burtally
I thought it would be good to do a refresher on why collaborating with industry is such a good thing, and why here at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, we do it so well. So I went along to a training event to hear why we encourage working with industry partners.

Taking findings in the lab and turning these into tangible benefits for patients is expensive and difficult for academic organisations to achieve on their own. We have found that the most effective way is to partner with industry and commercialise our research. But this in turn needs to be diligently brokered to ensure that partnership is beneficial for both parties.

Dr Angela Kukula directs our Enterprise Unit, who have the expertise to undertake all aspects of negotiations required when entering into any agreement with commercial organisations. Working with our scientists, the Unit strives first and foremost to maximise patient benefit from every opportunity, while protecting and commercialising the ICR’s intellectual property, and making a fair return for the ICR if our research is developed into successful products. We are very good at it. In fact, in 2012, we generated more income from inventions per head of academic staff than any other UK academic institution.

Dr Kukula says: “By entering partnerships, we can reach our research goals more quickly, speeding breakthroughs on big problems. Partnering with industry ultimately helps cancer patients. It can be challenging but it’s also very rewarding and actually quite enjoyable.”

But what can our scientists expect to gain along the way when entering a partnership with industry – be it with giant pharmaceutical companies or smaller biotech companies? It appears there are myriad benefits for both parties. A sponsor can provide resources and complimentary expertise. Funding is an obvious advantage, but commercial partners can also offer rare cell lines, technologies that we don’t have on site, or expensive and complicated reagents. Over the last 10-15 years there’s been a change in ethos in the way industry collaborates with academia. Basic science used to go on in-house in the pharmaceutical industry, but due to a change in economics, big pharma companies are slimming down their research departments so the drive to stay alive is through collaboration. Biotech firms operate at a smaller level than the pharma industry, but they also have their own limitations. They may have expertise, for example, in fragment-based drug discovery, but they need to find the right drug targets, and the ICR is a brilliant place to start. And what does the sponsor gain? Access to our award-winning, internationally recognised research and dedicated team of scientists and clinicians. So it’s a very beneficial and synergistic partnership.

We have a string of successes from our commercial partnerships, ranging from drugs we have successfully developed to genetic screening panels we have created to assess cancer risk. Our most prominent success of recent years has been abiraterone – a drug for prostate cancer discovered at ICR and now accepted for use on the NHS. Its successful development and commercialisation has allowed us not only to contribute to a major improvement in the lives of prostate cancer patients, but to plough back invention income into the next generation of research projects.

We have a number of partnering and licensing opportunities – if you are interested in working with us, we would really like to hear from you!
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