Corporate-academic collaborations promote funding and influence

As the need to publish becomes increasingly more important and funding sources more competitive, academic/corporate collaboration is becoming a viable way for educational institutions to grow. From emerging economies to world class institutions, corporate collaboration is helping universities thrive.

University College London, the Qatar Foundation and Qatar Museums Authority have all engaged in such partnerships, as has the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“We have to recognize that there’s a collaborative ecosystem,” says Ronald DePinho, president of MD Anderson. “For diseases, new drugs, diagnostics, devices – that’s the result of collaborative efforts that occur between the discovery engine of academia and the drug and product capabilities of industry – and then the clinical trial capabilities of hospitals.”

Raising research performance

Corporate collaboration can help institutions improve the success of their research. Because different organizations perform different types of research on the same topic, coordinating those research efforts can significantly improve outcomes. In cancer research, institutions like MD Anderson conduct biological research, pharmaceutical companies specialize in drug development and hospitals have clinical data.

Working separately, information might be lost among the different groups, but coordinating efforts means each group has a more thorough understanding of the other groups’ information.

This means faster, more relevant research in a field which has seen a 95 percent failure rate of new drugs. It also means raising the research profile of the research center because the discoveries aren’t simply sitting on shelves in articles – they’re actively being used for life-saving measures.

Because the research has been shown to have tangible importance and clinical value, it’s cited more and receives more public attention. Producing research that is proven to be high quality raises an institution’s credibility, network centrality and research influence. For smaller institutions and those in developing countries, this is an opportunity to prove themselves even without the benefit of prestigious names or grants.

“Discoveries that simply end up in books or on library shelves don’t save patients,” DePinho says. “And what really makes a difference in the eyes of the public are institutions that are not just discovering but delivering those discoveries to life-saving treatment paradigms.”

Increased funding opportunities

The search for grant money is growing ever more competitive, but corporate collaboration provides numerous new opportunities for academic institutions to seek funding.

“This intimate relationship between discovery, drug development and drug testing enables the industry to move their opportunities forward, and at the same time those activities return financial resources to the institution in order to help sustain our research engine, our academic engine,” says DePinho.

One of these opportunities is industry-sponsored clinical trials. Corporations need research done for a variety of reasons, and they can partner with universities to improve the results. Pharmaceutical companies developing cancer drugs, for instance, might partner with MD Anderson to fund a variety of research which gives a deeper understanding of why the drug does or doesn’t work.

This creates a deeper understanding of the drug than the pharmaceutical company could get on its own, and allows the academic institution to do research it wouldn’t otherwise do.

Similarly, if a university discovers something that could be the basis of a new therapy, it can license that discovery to corporations. When the corporations use the research to conduct a drug development effort – one which will often cost multiple millions of dollars – licensing revenues can generate a return for the university.

In fact, sometimes the venture capital community will finance new companies based on discoveries that haven’t yet been licensed to industry, and the academic institution might have an equity position in those companies. This can lead to direct financial gains.

DePinho emphasizes that higher-quality research outcomes, which are possible for any institution with corporate involvement, boost the institution’s reputation, in addition to funding sources.

“[O]ne is able to say that as a result of the great research we’ve done, it’s created new drugs and standards of care that are transforming lives, that enhances the reputation of the institution,” he notes.