Academia and industry are two significant pillars which are essential for wider progress and development in society. While academia is largely concerned with the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, industry focuses on the application of knowledge to generate innovative solutions addressing the needs of (and subsequently improving) the lives of people.
While these two pillars may have differing underlying goals, they are interdependent. Successful collaboration between the two disciplines are thus essential for the commercialisation of new research and technology.
Within the medical space, there have been countless instances of successful collaborations between academia and industry leading to new solutions.
For example, the blockbuster breast cancer drug Trastuzumab (Herceptin) resulted from a joint effort from Genentech (industry), and the University of California, Los Angeles (academia). More recently (and perhaps notably), the 2020 collaboration between the University of Oxford (academia) and AstraZeneca (industry), resulted in a COVID-19 vaccine being commercialised.
However, there are barriers associated with these collaborations which must be overcome.
What Influences the Success of Collaborations Between Academia and Industry?
In 2019, Gersdorf et al. conducted a comprehensive survey involving 669 participants in 187 collaborative research projects. It was shown that factors of a lack of resources, lack of coordination, and goal discrepancies were the greatest threat to project success; while factors of a complex legal contracting system and projects exploring new technologies were the likeliest to increase success.
Based on these findings, Gersdorf et al. (2019) posit four suggestions to effectively manage industry-academia collaborations. These suggestions are summarised below with some additional commentary.
Evaluate and manage the collaboration portfolio
Collaborative projects are dependent on effective allocation of resources and efforts for success. There are a number of administrative and legal hurdles which must be overcome for each project, which, when combined with intrinsic scientific research challenges, mean resources should be channelled in select projects with high potential. If a collaborative portfolio contains too many projects, there is a risk that attention or engagement is diverted from any specific, singular project.
Ensure high quality communication and coordination
Successful collaboration hinges on effective coordination. Many collaborative projects thus would stand to benefit from adopting proven practices in teamwork and project management. This may include regular updates, frequent coordination of tasks, open discussions over disagreements, and conflict resolution training.
Accommodate changing needs
Project leaders within these collaborations may be working in environments of high uncertainty, as is the case of much early-stage scientific research. Unforeseen results may alter project direction and require changes to the scientific approach (ie strategy) taken. Foresight on evolving needs or changes in expertise or staffing should also be given, with inclusions for reserves for contingencies. Proactive reorganisation of projects based on scientific progress or staffing changes should further be undertaken when necessary.
Foster commitment and enthusiasm
Finally, a successful collaboration depends strongly on both parties having strong relationships and being intrinsically motivated. Leaders from both academic institutions and firms in industry should thus set an example and demonstrate high personal commitment. Informal interactions between the two partnering organisations may increase familiarity between participants of a collaboration, while formally, organisational leaders should view external collaboration as a priority and reward success and progress in projects.
Academia and industry collaborations are key to accelerating both research and innovation, providing mutual benefits. Leaders in both academic institutions and individual firms should value external collaboration as a key strategy, and ensure successful collaboration by following project management best practices.
The following links below provide an additional insight into academia-industry collaborations, whether it be case studies of successful partnerships, or research into the nature of collaboration.
This webpage is aimed at academic research leaders and characterises the nature and implications of collaborating with industry. This resource provides practical advice on both the importance of collaboration and the process in finding a suitable industry partner.
This case study provides an overview of the relationship between the University of Cambridge and AstraZeneca, and notable achievements from their collaboration. The importance of aligned interests, strategic direction, and shared resources are highlighted.
This link to Pfizer’s homepage demonstrates their Centres for Therapeutic Innovation model for one aspect of collaboration. Detailed explanations of how this model works, its research interests and collaborators, and recent successes are provided.
This 2018 report provides an overview of university-industry collaboration within New Zealand. Barriers and benefits to these collaborations are provided. One of the main aims is to characterise and provide a causal link between universities and local innovation.
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