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Why we need to recognise the full spectrum of research commercialisation activities in academia


The Institute of Cancer Research is influential on a national scale through its excellence in building partnerships with industry. Science Information and Policy Officer, Roya Ziaie, attended a conference to hear how academics can drive social and economic benefits through these partnerships.

Posted on 31 July, 2018 by Roya Ziaie

A meeting at the ICR's Sutton Site

Recognising research commercialisation in all its forms in UK academia, building a stronger commercialisation culture and the need to be more celebratory about success were some of the themes of a high level policy conference I attended recently.

The ICR’s Dr Angela Kukula, our Director of Enterprise, gave a keynote talk alongside speakers from a range of organisations including Research England and Innovate UK at a conference called Research Commercialisation in 2018 – Delivering Impact for Universities and Business.

The event gathered together leaders from the UK higher education sector who are playing a role in delivering the Government’s Industrial Strategy, a long term plan to boost the UK’s productivity.

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Supporting academics

During her talk, Dr Kukula highlighted the importance of recognising that there are many different ways of supporting academics on the journey from idea conception through to revenue generation.

She also drew attention to the effect of poor definitions of commercialisation used in academia in recent years, which have led to confusion around just how universities commercial successes are interpreted.

For example, the most recent government survey to monitor business and community interaction showed that only eight per cent of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) cited commercialisation as one of their top three areas of economic impact.

However, the survey definition of commercialisation didn’t include collaboration with industry or knowledge exchange – both fundamental components of successful commercialisation.

This approach has led people to focus on licensing and spin-out companies as the drivers of university business interaction when in fact they are a small (but still important) part of knowledge exchange activity overall, Dr Kukula said.

To overcome this, realistic standards need to be developed between universities and industry, enabling greater understanding of commercialisation and allowing measurement of success in all its forms and comparison of progress.

Building on this theme, other speakers from inside government called on HEIs to be less introspective and more celebratory of their successes.

What is research commercialisation?

Research commercialisation – transforming ideas or research into marketable products for the benefit of the public – is at the heart of the ICR, and is one of the ways HEIs can increase their societal impact.

Our most famous example of successful commercialisation is the ICR-discovered prostate cancer drug, abiraterone, which has benefitted many thousands of men across the world.

The ICR is already by some measures the most successful academic organisation in the UK at commercialising its research, and is going even further with the development of The London Cancer Hub in Sutton.

The London Cancer Hub will drive cross-sector collaboration by co-locating corporate partners with world-leading experts in cancer research and leading oncology clinicians.

Facilitating these interactions between academia and industry will also boost both the local and UK economy – a key theme of the Industrial Strategy.

Our Enterprise Unit, led by Dr Kukula, works with industry to help translate ICR research into products, services and treatments for patients as quickly as possible. She was attending the conference on behalf of both the ICR and as chair of PraxisAuril, the UK knowledge exchange sector organisation.


Angela Kukula Enterprise Unit
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