Building Bridges Between Industry and Academia

12th Nov 2020

‘Building Bridges Between: Industry and academia’

The British Neuroscience Association and the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre recently ran a free discussion event, 'When industry meets academia', featuring Sir Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice-President and President Biopharmaceuticals R&D, AstraZeneca.

It launched the BNA’s strategic drive for ‘Building Bridges Between: Industry and Academia’ and provided a pharmaceutical industry perspective on how to improve translation and collaboration between industry and academia.

Below is an abridged article from the autumn edition of the Bulletin, the BNA's member magazine, outlining the purpose and critical learnings from the event.

Best of both worlds

Openness and trust are fundamental to successful partnerships between industry and academia, suggested the eminent discussants at a recent BNA virtual event.

Sir Mene described how, on joining AstraZeneca, he had set about addressing the pharmaceutical industry’s ‘productivity challenge’ – the fact that increasing levels of investment in research and development (R&D) were generating dwindling numbers of new licensed drugs. Success rates at the time at the company were around 3–4%. Paradoxically, the company was considered to be carrying out high-quality research, but this was not translating into new products.

An important change in mindset, he suggested, was to switch away from searching for reasons to continue with a programme to finding reasons to stop. It is important to challenge hypotheses and to focus on potential weak points, on the basis that flaws will be ruthlessly exposed in clinical studies anyway, so it is better to identify them early. This ruthlessness in decision-making can be challenging for academics, who might want to change direction but not abandon areas following disappointing results.

Building bridges

Reflecting his academic background, Sir Mene also noted that the company had transformed its approach to working with academia. On joining, he found that research groups were somewhat inward looking and using internal benchmarks of excellence (‘personal bests’, in his words). He encouraged his scientists to aim instead for ‘world records’, by establishing links with the best groups in academia.

Partners can include broad strategic alliances, as between AstraZeneca and the University of Cambridge, with the company constructing a new building close to the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) on the Addenbrooke’s campus. Sir Mene argued that interdigitation of academia and industry was essential, based on trust and open sharing of data. His vision was of academics and industry researchers jointly addressing challenges, learning from each other, and benefiting from each other’s expertise and facilities. 

Sir Mene also strongly endorsed the need for greater reproducibility, at the heart of the BNA’s credibility agenda. Lack of reproducibility has been a major issue in the translational domain, and is a major impediment to therapeutic development. Again, open sharing of data, independent scrutiny, and collaborations can all contribute to the credibility of research findings. Notably, ‘data dredging’ – searching for statistically significant correlations in data sets – is off the agenda: also data analyses and expected effect sizes must be pre-specified in advance.

Sir Mene argued for the benefits of close collaboration between academia and industry. For young scientists in particular, it provided an opportunity to taste both worlds, with the freedom to pursue a career in either sector.


Building Bridges Between: Industry and Academia

The BNA’s ‘Building Bridges' initiative aims to foster collaboration between neuroscientists in industry and academia for information exchange through events and networking opportunities, and is linked to the BNA’s core theme of ‘credibility in neuroscience'.

The BNA is planning a number of ‘Building Bridges Between: Industry and Academia’  special sessions at the festival of neuroscience 12-15th April, featuring Sir Mene, Carol Routledge (Small Pharma), Eva Loth (KCL) and Justin Bryans (LifeArc). More information here



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