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Academia and Industry—Creating a Seamless Fit (Part Two)

Posted By Genevieve Fraser, Wednesday, June 7, 2017

In the session “Making the Most of Industry-Academia Collaborations,” Mark Coflin, CSAP, head of alliance management at Shire Pharmaceuticals was joined by his colleague, Joe Sypek, PhD, director and external science lead at Shire, as they explored cultural differences between partners in academia and industry working together to find a cure for a disease (see Part I of this blog post) http://www.strategic-alliances.org/blogpost/1143942/277595/Academia-and-Industry-Partnerships-Creating-a-Seamless-Fit--Part-I. Joining them at the 2017 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, “Profit, Innovation, and Value for the Part­nering Enterprise,” were Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute’s (SBP’s) Paula Norris, PhD, laboratory director and project manager, and Sarah Hudson, PhD, R&D project and operations associate director. The 2017 Summit was held Feb. 28-March 2 in San Diego, Calif.

 

Norris works with principal investigators (PIs) to develop strategic plans for lab operations and policies. On any given project, she might work with four or five partners at a time. Some are smaller start-up companies; others are larger pharmaceutical companies. “In the past, we were grant-centric, but now less so as we work with industries,” she explained. “We explore a partner’s expectations, then go back to our group and discuss what we need to do to make it work. But there’s a language gap with industry. The language in industry is not necessarily the same as ours. So at times, there’s miscommunication. But we’ve gotten better at asking questions about what they mean, especially when we’re not sure [of] what they want or their end goal.”

 

“We’ve spent time working on culture and skill seton education across the institute. For example, what is a hit or lead?” she asked rhetorically. “We need to educate in terms of the basic terms of an alliance partner’s language.”

 

“It’s also important to hone in on expectations. If partners have different expectations, it can cause problems,” Norris stated. “Instead of going off on a tangent, we need to understand the scope and what the goals are and stay focused. Otherwise, we will fail to line up with the milestones. The criteria are only met when the milestone is achieved. “

 

“It can be a challenge if a partner says it’s a ‘no go,’ and we think there is an avenue. We need to remember that the money comes from a partner. If there’s scope creep, we need to draw them back to achieve the milestone. To do that you must have the right people involved and have communicated broadly. You need to define the statement of workmake sure the language is conciseso both parties are clear about what they need to do for the project.”

 

Hudson acknowledged that she and Norris are proud of the innovation and knowledge base of PIs, but to retain the culture, academia must adapt to make industry-academia projects run more smoothly. This only happens if someone is designated as the point person: “It’s quite important for long-term capabilities. A manager makes sure deadlines are met for milestones.”

As the leader of the project manager group at SBP, Hudson’s role is to partner with scientific project leaders in collaborations and initiatives. “These pharmaceutical and biotech companies, as well as alliances with other academic institutions, all have the same flavor but run differently,” Hudson conceded. “So, we do what we must to adapt with projects run by a joint steering committee.”

It’s important not to assume everything is going well, Coflin added.  As in every kind of relationship, the person talking needs to be truthful so that members of the team come to you with issues.  Being a good partner involves communicationsmonthly meetings. “Scientists tend to be reserved so they won’t get scooped. You need to create trust. Labs operate in a silo working by themselves, but to have an effective partnership, you need to work in a collaborative environment,” he said.

 

Scientists need to develop basic alliance management skills, Hudson stressed. “Because we don’t have large infrastructure, it’s important that we impart these skills to scientists so we can be proactive, instead of merely responsive.”

 

Since their groups have been working on alliance skills, both Hudson and Norris have personally seen a difference in greater productivity and efficiency through collaboration as their projects progress.

 

Sypek agrees that things break down when there is a lack of communication. If you are to reach the next level, you need to feel comfortable about talking with partners, he said. “The more you communicate, the better you get. But each project must be treated as individual, as unique, especially if the PI and/or goals are different.”

 

“What you are doing is transformative to an institution, Coflin stated. “Just as we do at Shire, you must prepare your institution to partner. Despite the fact they might be uncomfortable, it’s important to give them tools to be ready to partner. That sort of preparation is how you build capability.”

 

The entire panel then agreed on one axiom: A common goal helps make it work!

Part I of this blog post focuses on Shire Pharmaceutical’s perspective on academic-industry partnerships. http://www.strategic-alliances.org/blogpost/1143942/277595/Academia-and-Industry-Partnerships-Creating-a-Seamless-Fit--Part-I

Tags:  alliance partners  alliance skills  biotech  collaboration  communication  Joe Sypek  Mark Coflin  partner  partner language  partners  Paula Norris  principal investigators  Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute  Sarah Hudson  Shire Pharmaceuticals  transformation 

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