Changing model of pharma R&D opens the door for Poland to promote translational research

02 Jul 2014 | Viewpoint

Poland must break down the silos between academics and industry, to build the trust and infrastructures needed to underpin multilateral collaborations, and enable Polish medical researchers to capitalise on pharma’s thirst for external innovation

At a recent meeting, Poland’s medical scientists and biotech companies gathered to discuss how to stimulate translational research in oncology and enhance cooperation between science and industry. The event was organised by the Medical University of Warsaw and BASTION, an EU-funded project which aims to reduce the time from scientific discovery to clinical application. At the event, Science|Business interviewed Magda Chlebus, Director of Science Policy at the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations to assess the views of big pharma.

Q: How can Poland enhance collaboration between industry and academia, and how can Polish researchers capitalise on their scientific results?

A: I think that the fact that the business model in the pharmaceutical industry is evolving and is changing is not yet fully appreciated. Before, companies were conducting most R&D in house. Today the industry is externalising more and more and this also offers more opportunities for collaboration with academia and SMEs.  The research ecosystem - interactions between all players, sectors and stakeholders - is more dynamic, and every party - public and private - plays an important role in the biomedical research processes.

Also, there should be some sort of “glue” to facilitate the interactions and to help in moving results from the very early stages of research, through development, to the different partners in the ecosystem, until a therapy reaches the patients.

Q: What would that glue be? Better communications? Networking? Targeted policies?

It would be a combination of factors. Certainly a better understanding of the environment, a better understanding of the value universities can offer, a better understanding of the intellectual property rules and what IP can offer and what it cannot, and making IP an asset rather than a barrier for collaboration, are important.

It is also important to go beyond national collaborations. In this case, European funded projects can be considered one of the glues that help bringing people together. The Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 that will be launched in July 2014, is a very good example of a collaboration where you have academics, patients, industry, regulators and payers, working together to take early discoveries through development and to the patient, in a collaborative way. Translational research does not happen bilaterally – it needs to bring many stakeholders together.

Q: Do you think this approach can succeed here in Poland?

It will eventually. At present it is essential to break the silos and create more opportunities for people to work together and build trust.  They should learn more from each other and create common objectives and agendas, in order to understand what they have to offer to each other, what is the win-win situation. There is no effective mechanism to support such dialogue yet and there is also lack of self-confidence.

However, there are initiatives and projects, such as Bastion, which can help in moving things forward.

Q: Do you think Polish scientists are fearful of collaborating with industry?

There are more and more academics on the boards of pharmaceutical companies, and more and more collaborations between pharmaceutical companies and academia - because this is the only way of bringing excellent research results to the market. Usually, those who express fears are those who have little or no experience of collaboration.

The industry is in the midst of a process of changing its business models, of externalising its research, and great ideas are generated in collaboration with many different individuals. Academia should look for collaboration opportunities rather than just becoming outsourced service providers.

Q: How can academics protect their IP and profit from it? It seems that in Poland this issue requires more attention

From what I heard today, my impression is that Poland needs to catch up: there is probably not sufficient understanding of the benefits that well managed IP can offer. Technology transfer offices are not developed sufficiently. This sector, and this area of knowledge and expertise needs to be upgraded.

Q: How can the concept of multilateralism be made to fit with the need for a single voice for collaboration?

It actually fits very well because biomedical research is just one big ecosystem. Every partner, every stakeholder in this ecosystem has a role to play, but they all have a common objective: doing research that ultimately benefits patients.

This is the third of a series of three viewpoints assessing Poland’s progress in developing collaborations between academe and industry to foster open innovation. The article one and two are here and here.

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