Insights from the Trenches: Enhancing Academic and Industry Collaborations

Experienced leaders who’ve worked across both academia and industry shared their lessons learned from academic-industry partnerships at a November 2020 panel hosted by Vantage Partners. During our discussion they shared the similarities and differences across the two operating contexts, the key enablers of successfully executing these partnerships, and best practices for building an organization that can effectively partner across these two environments. Below are a few highlights from our fruitful conversation.

Try to understand your partner’s operating context

Understanding and planning for your counterpart’s operating context is a great start to effectively managing and leveraging difference

Differences can be a source of innovation or conflict, depending on how we manage them. A key step to putting your relationship on a path to positively leveraging organizational difference is to try and understand your partner’s operating context, and how the alliance can best be operationalized within it. Take, for example, the issue of publication and disclosure – where the different incentives within academic institutions and industry often result in the partners having differing views.

Joseph Havrilla, associate vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Pittsburgh, shared his approach to getting out in front of the publication difference: “Publication and disclosure can be dealt with up front from a contractual agreement standpoint…It goes back to understanding differences and managing them.” If you know there are common challenges or sources of tension, get ahead of them, and try to agree a way forward as early as possible in a way that meets both partners’ interests.

Communicate competing goals and obligations

Openly communicating your interests creates a foundational understanding across the partnership

Different organizations – especially ones with meaningfully different structures, activities, and reward systems – will often have related differences in pace, variety of work, and key stakeholder drivers. Establishing communication channels within your collaboration structure can go a long way towards bridging the gap between the partners’ ways of working.

Take Novartis, for example. Dr. Wendi Yajnik, global head of academic partnerships and external innovation at Novartis Institute for BioMedical Research, ensures her office maintains direct contact with researchers by providing dedicated liaisons to technology licensing offices at many academic institutions around the world. That way, competing goals and obligations can be quickly surfaced and addressed. “Building [relationships with our partner] is really important,” she added.

Challenge deeply held organizational perceptions

“Academia” and “Industry” are made up of unique individuals, and caricatures inhibit effective collaboration

It’s time to ditch the perception that academia and industry are monolithic entities that are diametrically opposed to one another, and instead focus on the potential scientific breakthroughs that could be achieved through partnership. In my experience, demonstrating a more collaborative mindset is a necessary step for a successful alliance.

This sentiment was echoed by Tari Suprapto, Ph.D., RTTP, Elanco’s senior advisor for external innovation, who commented “there was a lot of ‘us vs. them’ stance on both sides. You can dial that down, or just get rid of it.” She added that “The best approach is often to be humble … I’m here to learn, not necessarily to teach or preach or make you do what I want.” Indeed, Suprapto’s team-oriented approach can go a long way to moving from trying to convince one another, to finding a creative way forward together.

Leverage one another’s unique strengths

Try to shift from “buying” or “selling” an innovation, to joint problem solving to drive societal benefit

Academic-industry partnerships have a unique opportunity to translate innovation from universities and hospitals to improve outcomes for patients. The University of Pittsburgh has a systematic approach to generating value with industry: By actively reaching out to industry partners to understand their research and pipeline gaps, Havrilla can identify matches with the university’s capabilities and leading-edge research. The focus is, and ought to remain on, pairing capabilities to drive societal benefit.

Remember what you are ultimately trying to achieve together

Building-on and leveraging excitement around the science is a powerful enabler of collaboration

Individuals in academia and industry have a shared goal: getting treatments to patients. Don’t underestimate the importance of coming back to that (repeatedly) over the lifetime of your collaboration. “I can tell you that the main and most important matter is that we are aligned in our missions – getting therapies to patients,” Yajnik emphasized.

“We’re more similar than most people give us credit for,” Suprapto added. “Having worked with academic faculty and researchers at three different institutions, a very high percentage want to see their knowledge, expertise, and the results of their projects being applied and actually manifest in society, outside of their labs.”

 

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Collaboration, Influence & Stakeholder Alignment, Alliances & Partnerships, Blog