Tag Archives: research and development

industry-research collaboration

Laying the foundations

In response to Innovation and Science Australia’s recent performance review of Australia’s innovation, science and research system, I am producing a series of posts about improving industry-research collaboration, to share lessons from my experience leading collaborations for Cochlear, as well as recent research into best practice.

This blog series describes five steps to build industry-research partnerships for successful technology transfer. If you missed it, you can learn about Step 1 – develop a culture and practices that promote partnership – in my previous post. When you’re ready, here’s Step 2…

2. Build a strong foundation for your partnership

This stage of the potential collaboration follows the introduction and is about getting to know each other and building trust and understanding. These intangible assets take time to develop and are essential for a positive, productive relationship. Therefore, spending time in regular contact with potential partners, especially face-to-face, is critical and will pay dividends.

While informal meetings help potential collaborators get to know each other at a human level, face-to-face time should not be entirely unstructured. Every interaction should work towards answering two critical questions about motivations and expectations:

  • What does the company hope to achieve through the industry-research collaboration?
  • What does the research organisation seek to accomplish? 

Answering these questions will minimise the risk of disappointment and conflict later.  Also, when the tech transfer office and other administrators step in to draft the contract, having a clear, shared understanding of the purpose of the collaboration will simplify their negotiations. It’s useful to have these parties meet face-to-face as early as possible, so that they have time to build empathy too.

At Cochlear, when my colleagues and I met face-to-face with potential research collaborators, we planned an agenda in advance, identifying the issues we needed to discuss. We also spent time over lunch or dinner getting to know each other personally.

When members of the research team visited our office to learn more about Cochlear’s operations, we invited them to explain their research interests, achievements and experiences to all staff in a lunchtime seminar. These interactions helped both parties and their wider organisations develop trust and understanding.

Industry-research collaboration brings a sudden injection of new colleagues. Before commitment, each party should understand the strengths and weaknesses of their potential co-workers, and what they would contribute to the collaboration, i.e:

  • Who is in each team and what is their role?
  • What is each team member’s experience and expertise? 
  • How does each team measure up against their peers and competitors?
  • Has either team ever collaborated with others on the opposite side of the industry-research divide before? If so, what was the outcome?

As companies need to keep a watchful eye on their competitors, while sniffing out new market opportunities, they will also ask the research team the following questions:

  • Where is the science heading and on what timeframe?
  • What are the critical questions that remain unanswered in the field and what will it take to answer them?
  • What do the researchers know about any relevant industry collaborations involving their peers?

One of the best ways to understand technological trends and the R&D strategy of competitors is by analysing their patenting and publishing activities.  At Cochlear, we readily shared knowledge of competitors’ activities with our research collaborators, so they could be our ‘eyes and ears’ in the research sector.

Potential collaborators must discuss the following:

  • What problem are we seeking to solve? 
  • Who are the end users / customers and how can we improve value for them?
  • What are our time and budget constraints and what is achievable within them?

This phase of the industry-research collaboration is the time to identify any flaw in the research direction. In one case in my experience, the research had merit in its aims, but the proposed solution was impractical. Cochlear’s engineering expertise redirected the research, leading to a significant leap in the field and demonstrating the benefit of the collaboration.

By taking time: to build a personal relationship based on trust; to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses; to share information about threats and opportunities; to nail down the problem and how it may be solved practically; and above all, to clarify the expectations of each party; collaborators will lay down a solid foundation on which to build successful commercialisation projects.

The next steps in best practice industry-research collaboration for technology transfer are:

  1. Manage risk
  2. Use your teams to best effect and
  3. Measure your impact

To learn more about these, please watch this space for subsequent posts.

– James Dalton, gemaker

research-industry collaboration

research commercialisation

Research commercialisation is push and pull

‘It’s not me, it’s you’, is the message from universities to industry in terms of success in partnering and commercialisation of research and development.

Dr Leanna Read, Chief Scientist of South Australia and the founder and former CEO of TGR BioSciences, says universities are unfairly “bagged” for not pulling their weight in collaborating with industry and in fostering the development of research commercialisation partnerships.

“Our surveys have shown there is a strong interest in commercialisation and a willingness [in university research] to engage with industry,” she told the Australian Financial Review’s Innovation Summit in Sydney today.

“One of the issues is the nature of our industry sector. We are dominated by small to medium enterprises and we tend to be low in the level of innovation happening at this level. We have a problem here where research has all the will in the world to knock on doors of industry – the trouble is they’re not going to get a terribly good reception,” she says.

“We need to grow an innovative culture in these companies.”

TGR BioSciences focuses on drug discovery assay technologies and applies its core skills in cell biology to the development of new biodetection technologies.

Universities willing to engage

Emeritus Professor Jim Piper AM, President of Science and Technology Australia, and previously from Macquarie University, says there is a “high awareness” in universities to “encourage commercialisation”.

“There are impediments, however.

“One of the issues is the silo-isation of research which has been aided and abetted by the funding mechanism of universities.”

Many people forget that the university system is a service industry driven by international reputation, Piper points out. International students choose universities based on their impact factor and international reputation, and Australian universities rely heavily on liquidity from international students.

Shifting to a focus towards research commercialisation-based funding, or key performance indicators based on partnership success, the so-called ‘partner or perish’ is a massive shift in this context, he says – but one that universities are willing to make.

“One thing you can say about university researchers is they really chase the money. If that is in collaboration, then that is where they will chase it.

“One of the issues with unis is that, in most cases, commercialisation officers don’t have critical mass and there are challenges.”

For example, there are challenges in sharing and applying intellectual property (IP), he says.

“At Macquarie University, students at the start are invited to assign their intellectual property rights to the university so the uni can negotiate on their part. Often [in other universities] students keep their IP and this can be very complicated,” he told the summit.

Practice makes perfect

The problem may lie in experience in negotiations, says Professor Ian Frazer AC, Chair of the Medical Research Future Fund and inventor of the cervical cancer vaccine.

“We probably aren’t experienced enough at this negotiation [between academia and industry],” says Frazer. “There are excellent examples of industry-uni partnerships working, but there needs to be a lot of talk to make this happen.

“We’ve got to change both sides of the equation, for industries and universities. For example, the health sector relies on unis to provide input to research. We need to ensure that there is engagement between health researchers and industry, but industry needs to realise that research is critical to what it does,” he says.

Dr Steve Jones, global head of research and development at Australian R&D spin off cancer company Sirtex – a medical device company providing a radioactive treatment for inoperable liver cancer – agrees that universities have “had a rough ride” to make dramatic changes to the way they incentivise research to promote collaboration and research commercialisation.

Sirtex has approached universities to work on research but found that it worked best when they had an identifiable problem to take to the researchers, he told Science Meets Business.

Unis have work to do too

Read acknowledges that universities also have work to do, with funding for projects traditionally focussed on research project grants rather than looking to the issues faced by customers, the business approach controversially emphasised by CSIRO CEO Dr Larry Marshall, who also spoke at the summit.

“We need more of a ‘what is the problem and how do I solve it’ approach – this is what Cooperative Research Centres do well and we need more of that kind of research,” says Read.

More pull less push towards research commercialisation

Chief Defence Scientist Dr Alex Zelinksy says any successful negotiation “needs to be win-win” for both university and industry.

“There is a push and a pull element. There is a pioneering spirit (do it yourself) rather than an entrepreneurial spirit in terms of business and commercialisation of research. We need everyone to come together.”

He agrees that one of the barrier is around intellectual property. “Access to IP needs to be on fair and commercial terms.”

– Heather Catchpole

Read more: Collaborate or Crumble

spin-off start-ups

Top 25 insights: spin-off start-ups

Seven leaders of the Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies answer the question: What insights can you share with other R&D spin-off start-ups in Australia?


CATAPULT GROUP INTERNATIONAL LTD

Fill a market need and lead that market; don’t fill a product gap and complicate your market with a technology push.

It doesn’t matter how technical your product or service is, it needs to be easily explained and have a story that resonates for it to be successful in any market, let alone overseas markets.

Shaun_intext

– Shaun Holthouse, Chief Executive Officer


SMARTCAP TECHNOLOGIES PTY LTD

A few words of wisdom.

1. Make sure there is a viable, readily accessible market that is sufficiently large to support a spin-off company.

2. The actual invention is only the trigger to start a company – you are establishing a company that will need to innovate on an ongoing basis if it wants to be successful. Make sure that innovation capability and desire exists and thrives in the spin-off.

3. Identify competent board and management capability to direct the business and generate revenue for the company. Most often the management capability is not the same people who carried out the research, but sometimes it can be. Without the right people running the show, the spin-off will not be successful. 

4. Make sure you have sufficient funding available to get the company through to a viable revenue stream, and ideally flexible funding arrangements. Unexpected things will happen and you need capability to accommodate those changes.

– Kevin Greenwood, Chief Operating Officer


PHARMAXIS LTD

“Most start-ups are focused on development plans that contain binary events and marginal financing. This makes them vulnerable to unforeseen delays and additional development steps that require additional funding.

I believe that we should be looking to generate portfolios of innovation under experienced management teams that give our projects the best chance of success – and adequate funding to reach proof of concept in whatever market we are targeting – but at the same time help to spread risk.

venture capital

– Gary J Phillips, Chief Executive Officer


ACRUX DDS PTY LTD

“Ensuring a strong board, CEO, and a quality management team will be critical to success. The availability of funds for programs is an often-discussed barrier to rapid progress. Underfunded companies and poorly thought-out product concepts or technologies are more likely to fail early.

Michael Kotsanis_intext

– Michael Kotsanis, Chief Executive Officer


SPINIFEX PHARAMCEUTICALS PTY LTD

“1. For biotechnology R&D spin-off start-ups in Australia, major hurdles are the dearth of seed capital as well as access to large follow-on venture funds that are needed to build successful biotechnology companies.

2. There is a mismatch between the 10-year life span of a venture capital fund in Australia and the 15+ years needed to translate research findings into a novel drug or biologic product for improving human health. 

3. Hence, these systemic issues are major impediments to building successful biotechnology companies in Australia and these issues need to be addressed.”

– Professor Maree Smith, Executive Director of the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development and Head of the Pain Research Group at The University of Queensland


ADMEDUS

Start-up companies may consider moving overseas, especially if the Government stops or reduces the R&D tax rebates and doesn’t establish some innovation stimulus packages.

venture capital

– Dr Julian Chick, Chief Operating Officer


REDFLOW

Nothing ever goes 100% smoothly – perseverance is a prerequisite.

Stuart Smith_intext

– Stuart Smith, Chief Executive Officer

Click here to see the full list of Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies, or for further insights from the Top 25 leaders, read their interviews on attracting venture capital, learning from overseas marketsgetting past the valley of death and overcoming major start-up challenges.

One small step for open data…

NASA has a plan. Not one, in this case, about spaceships and astronauts, but something far more ‘down to earth’: open data. The organisation’s Plan for Increasing Access to the Results of Scientific Research was first published in late 2014, laying out NASA’s commitment to open up its datasets for international reuse. Full implementation of the plan is set to be in place from October 2015.

The plan aims, in NASA’s words, to “ensure public access to publications and digital data sets arising from NASA research, development, and technology programs”.

Done properly, opening up complex data sets for public analysis and reuse can lead to new and exciting discoveries, sometimes by those with nothing more than a keen amateur interest (or perhaps obsession) with the topic.

NASA is fully aware of this potential. It says it wants to support researchers to make new findings based on its data, not just in the US but around the globe. As if to prove the point, NASA’s Data Stories website highlights a number of case studies of people reusing its datasets in original applications, such as a ‘Solar System Simulator’ created by Canadian website developer Martin Vezina.

NASA also knows it needs to show commitment to scientific integrity and the accuracy of its research data and wants to encourage others to do the same. So by publishing its own datasets, NASA’s team are setting a benchmark for researchers hoping to grab a slice of the organisation’s annual research investment – a whopping US$3 billion. A condition of funding those research contracts, outlined in the 2014 document, is that researchers must develop their own data management plans describing how they will provide access to their scientific data in digital format. One small step for open data, one giant leap for new scientific discovery?

“This plan will ‘ensure public access to publications and digital data sets arising from NASA research, development, and technology programs’.”


How public data is being reused: The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes

The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (AuSSA) is the main source of data for the scientific study of the social attitudes, beliefs and opinions of the nation.

It measures how those attitudes change over time as well as how they compare with other societies, which helps researchers better understand how Australians think and feel about their lives. Similar surveys are run in other countries, meaning data from AuSSA also allows us to compare Australia with countries all over the world.

Access to the AuSSA data has allowed independent researchers to explore changes in social attitudes in Australia over time. For example, Andrew Norton (now at the Grattan Institute in Melbourne) has analysed AuSSA to examine changes in attitudes towards same sex relationships between 1984 and 2009, noting the major shifts in favour of same sex relationships during that period.

AuSSA is often used as a reference point for public policy debate. A number of media articles have been based on its findings, discussing topics as diverse as climate change, the welfare state and the kindness of Australians.

Similarly Australian Policy Online includes 18 different papers making use of AuSSA, including papers on perceptions of democracy, population growth, cultural identity and tax policy.

AuSSA datasets can be accessed via its website.

With thanks to Steve McEachern, Director of the Australian Data Archive at Australian National University.


Story provided by Refraction MediaOriginally published in Share, the newsletter magazine of the Australian National Data Service (ANDS).

Featured image source (above): NASA.