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Should you partner with Big Pharma?

By: Roche Life Science

Posted: September 09, 2015 | Everyday Essentials for Research

Did you design a killer cancer or other diagnostic test? Or did you identify a novel pharmacologic target or biomarker? Taking the necessary next steps to translate your research into its full potential can be an arduous and difficult journey without proper financial and infrastructure support.

One avenue for bridging this developmental and translational gap is via partnership with pharmaceutical companies. And despite much rumor to the contrary, your soul will not be included in the partnership negotiations and it won't mean you have to carry a pager, à la HBO's "The Wire."

According to a recent study from the MIT Sloan School of Management in February, the research and development (R&D) costs for pharmaceutical companies to sell new drugs from 2005-2009 outpaced the earned revenue, and since 2004 profits have sharply declined1. What does this mean for drug companies? Well, it gives the message that investing in R&D is volatile, and may come with significant financial risk. Initially this resulted in enormous cut backs to drug R&D in the pharmaceutical industry, especially in light of the surge in generic competitors for drug sales as patents for a whole slew of high-profit mainstream drugs reach expiration2.

These collective events resulted in a significant, and growing, trend in the pharmaceutical industry of teaming up with academic research institutions to accelerate drug development. By focusing on efficiency and cost reduction, pharmaceutical companies essentially began outsourcing the early phases of drug and diagnostic test R&D to academic laboratories and institutions on a larger scale3. However, this concept is not quite novel, as academic labs have a long history of fueling success in the pharmaceutical industry with blockbuster discoveries, ranging from vaccines such as Gardasil and RotaTeq to cancer drugs like Gleevec.

Importantly, with declines in federal funding and academic labs facing tighter and tighter research budgets, partnering with the pharmaceutical industry can bring significant financial benefit and stability to your research.

Therefore, if you are considering partnering your lab with industry, there are some important considerations. Below, we outline our top 3 tips for considering partnership with the pharmaceutical industry:

1. Recognize the power of persuasion. Arguably, mediocre science presented with a great sales pitch may have more of a chance for funding support than great science presented rather poorly. Thus, you need to be able to clearly communicate your research to both experts within and outside your field, as well as the layperson on the street. You need to be articulate with technical detail in addition to being able to translate the same research to the general public. Essentially, you need to be ready to pull off the 'elevator sales pitch' to a diverse audience and be able to back up your pitch with facts and evidence. Your ability to market the novelty and importance of your research or technology to the right audience (i.e. industry professionals) can make all the difference in developing and fostering a successful partnership with industry.

2. Develop a shared and clear vision for all individuals involved. This means a sound framework that facilitates communication and the exchange of ideas

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