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Business & Education Business, COVID-19

How Can Industry and Academia Work Together More Effectively?

COVID-19 instigated new working practices in the life science industries that continue to impact today’s work. Now, there is renewed interest in – and, I’d argue, urgency for – global collaboration, workforce agility, patient and customer focus, and digital exchanges. 

The past few years have presented new opportunities for research between academia and international organizations in commercial, government, and nonprofit sectors – and these have spurred successful conversations and collaborations. In response to SARS-CoV-2, research and development teams rapidly reprioritized new research, and rallied to produce results. The tremendous output of clinical studies, new diagnostics, therapies, and vaccines have proved that collaborations within and across science communities can drive outcomes in patient health, public policy, and scientific discovery.

As funding for pandemic innovation wanes and as teams adjust to new operations, we must take advantage of the momentum gained from industry working effectively with academic partners. Bringing cross-functional and cross-industry teams together is imperative for progress; moreover, such relationships can be mutually beneficial.

But collaboration is just a word – it requires the right actions and attitude. Below, I outline how both parties can help maximize collaboration.

First, stakeholders across industry and academia must align expectations – there will be decisions regarding intellectual property (IP) and nondisclosure, technical capabilities, business development, operational structures, and more. And though academia and industry are both committed to solving problems, academia often seeks to push the boundaries of their areas of expertise. They often look to publish the outcomes as high-impact articles in scientific journals – as well as foundation data for raising additional research funding. For successful collaboration, industry partners must recognise academia’s desire for research in areas that can be published and will gain peer recognition.

Once expectations are aligned, the industry partner must develop a problem statement regarding the research and present it to academia before the partnership is formalized. Smaller, more foundational discussions with faculty and staff is also beneficial to agree on objectives, roles and responsibilities, and the scope of the partnership. For example, you might start with a general overview meeting between faculty and industry, then go on to targeted workshops where both sides can delve into strategy, and discuss problems they hope to address. A single point of contact is also useful to ensure that the scope of the program is well articulated, key experts are connected, and timelines are communicated and managed. In addition, these points of contact help resolve the inevitable challenges that arise in these discussions with respect to IP, project scope, and funding.

Timelines also need to align. Academics work on academic calendars, which could impact the research. Rather than ignoring the problem, all collaborators need to agree on the flow of the research as part of the project plan. Basing these discussions around the Master Service Agreement after the initial conversations is an effective way to ensure alignment and respect for all schedule needs and constraints. Instead of a fully formed project proposal, start the arrangement between the two organizations early in the process to discuss the timeline, and other key research components. 

There is a golden thread throughout the challenges we face – it’s about supporting a shared vision rather than a short-term goal. If the aspirations of the individuals and organizations are unknown, it creates an underlying issue that will reveal itself throughout the partnership – ultimately impeding progress. The awareness of the value of teamwork and mutual commitment to addressing the problem is key to any meaningful collaboration.

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About the Author
Steve Martin

Vice President of Global Research, Waters Corporation, Milford, MA, USA

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