Accelerating Innovation: Academia-Industry Collaboration

British Heart Foundation’s vision is a world in which people do not die prematurely or suffer from heart disease. Our ambitious research strategy highlights the importance of translating cardiovascular research discoveries into improved patient care. For this to become a reality, experts across the entire biomedical field need to work together and tackle cardiovascular disease collectively. Strong working relationships between academia, funders and industry are therefore vital.

As part of this strategy, the BHF’s Translational Award scheme was launched in 2015. These awards support the early stage development of new cardiovascular medicines and technologies so that they are attractive for follow-on funding. It helps to bridge the funding gap between promising innovations and the clinic with the aim of accelerating advances in cardiovascular science for patient benefit.

To achieve its mission, BHF will fund academic-led projects that involve commercial companies across all of our funding schemes, where there is clear potential for patient benefit providing that the terms of collaboration are in line with BHF guidelines.

The BHF’s Kat Kelly spoke with three prominent pharmaceutical industry experts to find out more about how and why they engage with academia.

Left: Dr Garry Pairaudeau — AstraZeneca, Centre: Dr Karin Conde-Knape — Johnson & Johnson, Right: Dr Jeremy Griggs — GlaxoSmithKline

Dr Jeremy Griggs is the Director and Discovery Partnerships Leader in GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK’s) Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc) team, which identifies opportunities for drug discovery collaborations with world-leading academic researchers. He provides project leadership in close partnership with the academic counterparts to drive projects towards success.

Dr Karin Conde-Knape is the Vice President of Cardiovascular and Metabolism Scientific Innovation at Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) Innovation Centre London. She manages external opportunities within the cardiovascular and metabolism field to help translate innovative science into transformational treatments for patients in need.

Dr Garry Pairaudeau is the Head of Hit Discovery at AstraZeneca. The group is responsible for generating high quality starting points for small molecule projects as well as creating a portfolio of more than 50 external open innovation projects with academic centres of excellence.

What do your respective companies offer in terms of working with academics?

JG: GSK has many active academic collaborations across a range of therapeutic areas and technologies. Our collaborations and alliances take many forms; in early-stage drug discovery, the DPAc initiative is one prominent example. DPAc offers fully integrated, collaborative partnerships to help world-class academics translate their novel target or therapeutic hypothesis potentially leading to a medicine that really benefits patients. Within this end-to-end model, both sides play to their strengths, with the academic investigator’s team maintaining a key role in the collaboration, working closely with their GSK counterparts to pursue a milestone-based research programme.

KCK: Over the years, JNJ has established many different collaborations with academics. The collaboration agreement varies depending on the needs and interests of the parties involved. JNJ is looking for truly collaborative relationships with top academics.

GP: AstraZeneca supports a vast and diverse network of collaborations across all areas of drug discovery. Through our Open Innovation programme we offer academics the opportunity to develop drug discovery programmes and test biological hypothesis in the following ways:

· In the clinic, through access to our clinical compound bank. AZ is one of the pioneers of clinical repositioning.

· In vivo, using our pharmacology tool box of well characterised in vivo ready probes, spanning a range of mechanisms.

· Access to early drug discovery tools such as our large diverse compound libraries, annotated phenotypic screening set or even high throughput screening.

What is the benefit to both pharma and academics working together?

JG: Academia-industry collaborations are mutually beneficial. A key benefit to pharma is the ability to access cutting-edge, innovative biological understanding of disease and potential novel therapeutic targets. Moreover, the in-depth biology expertise of academic investigators and the insights into patients’ needs provided by academic clinicians can be critical in helping to define the therapeutic hypothesis and the unmet need. For academics, working with industry brings to bear pharma’s drug discovery and development capabilities, significantly increasing the likelihood of success in the very challenging translation of academic discoveries into new medicines. Additionally pharma benefits from early awareness of emerging science and breakthrough discoveries and can make a significant contribution to validating new potential targets through the provision of high quality tool molecules and pharmacological expertise.

KCK: JNJ realises that it doesn’t have all the necessary knowledge within its walls to bring transformational products to patients in need. The reality is that innovation within the R&D groups in pharma has decreased over the years (measured by the number of approved drugs vs funds invested in R&D). There is a need to create more agile organizations with capabilities to better leverage external innovation as well as providing funds to do so. Therefore JNJ looks to collaborate with experts in the field and leverage knowhow existing within academic institutions. We build a synergistic environment where JNJ brings development knowhow to help academics advance their projects.

GP: Our primary reason for collaboration is to access world-leading expertise and novel science. Working with academic groups allows us to benefit from their deep understanding of biological pathways and mechanisms.

Additionally, many academic groups have well developed links to research hospitals and are often able to make the connections through to treating disease in a very direct way.

How should an academic go about initiating a potential collaboration?

JG: DPAc evaluates proposals for new collaborations on an ongoing basis and we are always pleased to receive non-confidential outline proposals through our dedicated portal (www.dpac.gsk.com). We encourage investigators to liaise with their institution’s Technology Transfer Office. In addition, we regularly visit UK Universities and Research Centres to provide further information on the DPAc model and meet face-to-face with interested researchers, where we are happy to discuss research work and suggest ideas to help with translation.

KCK: Through JNJ Innovation, JNJ has created an easy way for academics or biotechs to contact the right areas of expertise within JNJ. On our webpage (www.jnjinnovation.com) we have information on the areas of interest as well as key individuals responsible for the different areas. In addition, there is a portal for idea submission where researchers can provide a teaser of their innovation and reach out to the right individual within JNJ. JNJ Innovation is the door to JNJ and anybody in the team would be happy to help make the right connection.

GP: We have an extensive outreach programme and visit many universities across the world. We encourage people to submit ideas through our website for our Open Innovation programmes (http://openinnovation.astrazeneca.com) and we will then ensure it gets to the right person in the organisation.

The BHF Translational Team is keen to speak with researchers about their projects and ideas. More information can be found on our Translational Award webpage and the team can be contacted by email researchtranslation@bhf.org.uk. You can also read our guidelines on Commercial Company Involvement on our website.