HBA Metro chapter Women in Science (WIS) event focuses on putting academia-industry research partnerships to work

On Thursday, September 12 at the Novartis campus in East Hanover, NJ, the HBA WIS affinity group in partnership with the Novartis EWIN (Empowering Women to Impact Now) and WISE (Women in SciencE) groups, brought together an expert panel of speakers to discuss the subject of academic-industry partnerships. A recognizable trend in today’s biopharmaceutical industry is the strategy of small, medium-sized and large biopharmaceutical companies establishing new models of collaboration with academics, from building innovation centers at the hearts of academic hubs to directly partnering with universities. 

The distinguished speakers included René Bastón, director of industry interactions and entrepreneurship , Columbia; Dr. Deborah Dougherty, professor of Rutgers Business School; Dr. Angela Shen, global clinical program head, CTL 019 oncology clinical development at Novartis, and Dr. Mark Kaplan, senior principal scientist at the Centers for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI) at Pfizer. The moderator was Dr. Susan Froshauer, president and CEO of Connecticut United for Research Excellence (CURE).

Hervé Hoppenot, president of Novartis Oncology, the keynote speaker, opened the event outlining the drive behind the current push for increased academic-industry collaborations and analyzing the effectiveness of the collaborations now in practice. The example he chose was the use of CTL 019 in a pilot collaboration by Novartis Oncology with University of Pennyslvania, led by Dr. Angela Shen. CTL 019 is a drug candidate that made headlines for successfully treating and curing Emily Whitehead, a pediatric oncology patient.

The panel discussion provided further elaboration on the topic, with the speakers discussing how new collaborations required thoughtful assessment by all parties and a committed effort to take co-responsibility over the needs of other collaborative parties, thus focusing on shared developments of knowledge. The pharmaceutical industry is in the somewhat difficult position of determining the new model for access provision and assessing how best to develop the next generation of drugs to meet the demands of an evolving healthcare system. 

Developing a level of trust is vital to successful partnerships with academic investigators and institutes in order to enable effective translation of their discoveries to the commercial side, or in other words, move a drug candidate from mice to humans. Ultimately, this requires transfer of technology. Mark posed the question of what makes an academic proposal to potential industry partners appealing and expounded on the translational data that will foster academic-industry collaborations. Angela pointed out that to thread the needle and make it work with scientists, there needs to be chemistry with both sides. René further emphasized the need for openness and inclusion on both sides.

Susan followed up with a question of what was the measure(s) of success and what metrics are currently being used to assess success in these types of partnerships. Angela’s perspective was that measured success occurs when the remaining global population of patients like Emily Whitehead has access to life-saving medicine. She felt that when Novartis finance groups are writing checks, they think about these patients. It is always about the patient.

Mark then raised a point on the impact of creating a different ethos system where there is collaborative space. Deborah added that the old world of collaboration where there was  fee for service is no longer working. In order to keep up with the new business needs new and “daring” models like CTI are spawned. Mark highlighted the general difficulties of working with academicians as a group because they are incentivized to be more focused on publications of their work instead of solely focusing on disease models and therapeutic developments, and sometimes trying to balance both of these research interests can lead to burnout.

Susan wondered what were the primary concerns industry had with such collaborations Angela felt that trust was key, but challenges and hurdles are expected to occur, and especially when the “honeymoon” is over. But she remains optimistic as long as there is open and shared vision. Susan questioned the availability of career opportunities in such collaborations. René felt that those opportunities would be at the intersection of academics and industry. Susan agreed that these career opportunities would be multidisciplinary.

Deborah speculated that another form of science different from what is available today was also being developed – one where alliance management and soft skills to influence people would have high value impact. Mark highlighted the importance of communication as a critical skill to move from one group/project to another, and cross-pollinate across an organization(s).

In summary, there are now characteristics of new, stronger alliances being built in which the primary goal is to create truly innovative advances in healthcare and lifesciences. Both sides share a common work context, or space, and both sides not only align goals but are comfortable with adapting goals over time. Dr. Jean Hom Chow, medical director of worldwide safety and regulatory and chairperson of WIS, comments that although this is a topic discussed before, with technology transfer and creative innovation there are now different solutions to making these partnerships between academia and pharmaceutical industry work.

This event was led by the WIS co-leads, Drs. Jennifer O’ Brien (Intra-Cellular Therapies) and Florence Brellier (PharmaNest). Also present to support the event was the rest of the WIS team: Dr. Jean Hom Chow (Pfizer), Yasmin Kahn (Regeneron),  Dr. Kelly Park (Novartis) Dr. Deshanie Rai (DSM)  and Dr. Lisa Weiss (Pfizer). The corporate Novartis sponsor volunteers included: Theresa Benvenuto, Kimberly Colligan, Karen Habucky, Lorraine Gaglioti, Ann Marie Moran, Susan Snodgrass, Kristin Williamson, Alice Woychik and Karen Yutsus.  The event achieved high attendance and interesting questions were raised by both the speakers and the audience. One speaker mentioned how this event led her to think more deeply about the goals of the alliances she was developing.

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