The university-industry cooperation challenge

The need for collaboration between universities and industries is increasingly critical, as public funding is focused on scientific research which has demonstrable potential for wealth creation, and not just the advancement of knowledge. Although universities and public research organisations (PRO) perform more than 35 percent of all research undertaken in Europe, their potential is not fully realised due to significant fragmentation of activities, and insufficient links with business and society [1]. Public-private partnerships should therefore be stimulated further, to improve research collaboration and knowledge transfer between PROs and industry which member states and stakeholders, especially on a voluntary and flexible basis [2]. The importance of knowledge transfer and collaboration between industry and academia is now very well recognised, and many initiatives are underway to make it easier, from training schemes to IP guidelines [3]. The challenge in Europe is to establish conditions which lead to a virtuous cycle of productive collaboration and on a sufficient scale. University-industry cooperation (hereunder referred to as “UIC”) is one of the avenues to foster a dynamic research sector while strengthening the so-called third mission of universities. UIC has strategic importance as it brings opportunities for universities to improve the sharing of research results, intellectual property rights, patents and licences (for example through on-campus start-ups or the creation of science parks) [4]. Universities can also increase the relevance of education and training programmes through placements of students and researchers in business, and can improve the career prospects of researchers at all stages of their career by adding entrepreneurial skills to scientific expertise. Links with business can bring additional funding, and enhance the impact of university-based research on SMEs and regional innovation.

The EU7 Marie Curie Initial Training Network “Innovative, mechanistic-based strategies for delivery of therapeutic macromolecules across cellular and biological barriers” (also referred as Pathchooser) has been designed to meet the academic-industry requirement: fellows have the chance to develop a scientific academic-based knowledge and translate it into the commercial reality or, vice versa, apply the industrial experience to university research and development. The need to merge these two realities is necessary as many fellows, once they obtain their PhD, decide to migrate from the academia to commercial employment, and because of the lack of experience in the industrial environment, this transition can be quite difficult and time-consuming. Therefore, the most important aspect of a Marie Curie Initial Training Network is the chance given to a fellow to experience both research environments, in order to understand how basic science can be applied to real world products and services.

Another important point of the Pathchooser project is the opportunity to learn how to manage a project in every aspect, from the writing of a proposal to the financial management. Almost all PhD students generally attend conferences and meetings related to the topic of their thesis, but only few probably have the chance to attend proposal-writing and management training lessons. The Pathchooser project aims to teach the fellows not only how to work in a laboratory, but also how to plan that specific work and how to manage the finance available for the work. Hence, during the annual meeting of the Pathchooser project (29-30 April 2015) Dr Jo Oliver and Dr Colin Wilde (AvantiCell Science Ltd) delivered an extensive workshop presentation and training about industrial opportunities in medical and biological science. This included generation of strategy and fundraising for research: this training session had the aim of introducing the fellows into the industrial world and to help them build the commercial perspective of their PhD research. A training workshop about proposal writing was also eagerly suggested by the fellows during the annual Pathchooser meeting and it is awaiting approval.
The Pathchooser project is one of the many Marie Curie Initial Training Networks which include an industrial point-of-view of the research: the aim of these EU projects is to guide an increasing number of PhD students and post-doc researchers through their learning processes and help them to understand that academia and commerce are not two separate universes, but one inclusive reality.

Maria Rita Fabbrizi
AvantiCell Science Ltd
AvantiCell Science Ltd is a SME focused on cell-based assays for use in drug discovery, biomedical research and natural product testing.

[1] Commission Green Paper ‘The European Research Area: New Perspectives’, COM(2007) 161 final.
[2] Commission Communication ‘Improving knowledge transfer between research institutions and industry across Europe: embracing open innovation‘, COM(2007) 182 final.
[3] Commission Recommendation, ‘Management of intellectual property and knowledge transfer by universities and other public research organisations’, COM(2008) 1329.
[4] Commission communication ‘Delivering on the modernisation agenda for universities: education, research and innovation’, COM(2006) 208.

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