How To Strengthen Biotech's Pipeline? Partner With Academia
By Punit Dhillon, president and CEO, OncoSec Medical Inc.
The year 2013 has already been an impressive one for advancements in biotech. For example, at Cornell University, a team created artificial body tissue from gels found in animal collagen and cartilage. At Tufts University, biologists harnessed bioelectric cancer detection, which assumes tumor sites exhibit a distinct voltage or bioelectric signal compared to surrounding cells. And at the University of Washington, researchers used minute coloring material to pinpoint proteins in cancer cells, analyze cells unaffected by treatment, and attempt to predict which cells may become cancerous and why.
All of these advances came from academia, not biotech companies, which is why I strongly believe that integrating academic institutions with the research and development pipeline — and having access to their facilities and research potential — to be of major importance. Leaders of companies developing cutting-edge treatments ought to be especially attuned in the benefits that can accrue from such relationships.
At present, California represents America’s largest arena for biotech investments, along with both research and production. A focal point for the success and growth there comes from strong, mutually profitable relationships between companies and leading academic institutions. Collectively these institutions represent a central partner for the biotech industry that allows for an ever-growing synergy of discovery and commercialization.
University collaboration has not only resulted in creating unique opportunities — such as the initiation of clinical trials for the current clinical indications in development pipelines — but also provided guidance for the direction of new technology and product development.
From a business standpoint, the relationships that allow academic institutions to provide a research outcome are only one of the components of importance. There is also the impact — i.e. how the new knowledge derived from a collaboration with a university can contribute to future efforts and, ultimately, a company’s performance. When evaluating an academic collaboration, companies should consider if the following are possible due to the collaboration:
- new therapeutic product opportunities?
- new and more effective treatment processes? novel innovations and optimization of a delivery platform?
- intellectual property, clinical know-how, or processes that enhance competitive advantage?
In turn, a university that engages in this kind of partnership with a company adds to its prestige in several ways. It offers an opportunity for its faculty members to further demonstrate their value — and embellish their professional records — by engaging in research outside of the ivory tower; it allows university management to demonstrate to its trustees, benefactors, and alumni the importance and relevance of its research programs; and it offers a potential new stream of revenue depending on the nature of the agreement and the outcome of the research.
I believe biotech would be wellserved by building a community that includes researchers and academics as well as industry professionals.
Working together, the biotech industry and academia can improve not only biotech’s bottom line but the public’s healthcare options as well.