Towards a Sustainable Innovation Ecosystem

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  • 04/17/2012

Eli Lilly’s John Lechleiter believes that the biopharmaceutical industry exists in an “innovation ecosystem.” A new study by the Tufts University Center for the Study of Drug Development (funded by PhRMA) confirms that notion by exploring the breadth and nature of partnerships between biopharmaceutical companies and academic medical centers (AMCs).

The full study can be found here.

The Tufts study examines a subset of public-private partnerships – more than 3,000 grants to AMCs from about 450 biopharmaceutical company sponsors. The Tufts report describes the various types of partnership models that exist, and recent trend as well as identifies next generation academic-industry collaboration models emerging from the public-private-partnership paradigm.

To add to Lechleiter’s phrase, the report discusses the importance for and a model of a sustainable innovation ecosystem. This is in keeping with the ethical and pragmatic policy of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) and the American College of Endocrinology (ACE) regarding the disclosure of conflicts of interest:

“There is no inherent conflict of interest in the working relationships of physicians with industry and government.  Rather, there is a commonality of interest that is healthy, desirable, and beneficial.  The collaborative relationship among physicians, government, and industry has resulted in many medical advancements and improved health outcomes.”

Some findings from the Tuft’s study:

The partnerships examined in this report fall into three primary categories: joint clinical trials (75%), studies targeting public health priorities (14%), and health research and education projects (11%).

* 72 percent of the joint clinical trials are for pharmaceuticals.

* Studies targeting public health priorities cover a range of topics, including breakthrough-investigations involving multiple disciplines.

* Joint health research and educational activities ranged from basic medicine to translational research to new technologies, particularly nanotechnology and pharmacogenomics.

Tufts found that these relationships often involve company and AMC scientists and other researchers working side-by-side on cutting-edge science with advanced tools and resources, enabling the U.S. to rise to the challenge of various biomedical opportunities, such as personalized medicines and a growing understanding of rare diseases.

The report outlines the 12 primary models of academic-industry collaborations and highlights emerging models, which reflect a shift in the nature of academic-industry relationships toward more risk- and resource-sharing partnerships.

* Unrestricted research support has been one of the most widely used models. While these models have generally represented the most common form of academic-industry collaboration, Tufts research found that they are becoming less frequently used.

* The report found a range of innovative models emerging, from corporate venture capital funds to pre-competitive research centers to increasingly used academic drug discovery centers.

Examples of emerging academic-industry partnership models include:

* The Coalition Against Major Diseases, a consortium under the Critical Path Institute, involves biopharmaceutical companies, academic institutions, and others working together to facilitate the development of effective treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

* Eli Lilly and Company launched the Open Innovation Drug Discovery program to facilitate research on molecules around the world that have the potential to ultimately be developed into medicines by allowing academic and other researchers to submit molecules for free screening as potential drug candidates.

* Sanofi has a strategic alliance agreement with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Center for Biomedical Innovation focused on advancing knowledge in the area of human health through basic and applied research and promoting scientific exchange between MIT and Sanofi researchers to support the development of health care solutions for patients.

The report highlights the mutual benefits of partnerships:

* Both academia and industry are facing increasingly complex scientific challenges. According to the report, as the scope of some of the scientific challenges is so large, collaboration is viewed as increasingly important to making significant progress.

* Partnerships benefit both industry and academia by providing the opportunity for the leading biomedical researchers in both sectors to work side-by-side to explore the promising new technologies and scientific discoveries that have the potential to treat the most challenging diseases and conditions facing patients today.

The report finds that the nature of collaboration occurs across all aspects of drug discovery. According to Tufts, companies are funding and working collaboratively with the academic component of the public sector on basic research that contributes broadly across the entire spectrum of biomedical R&D, not just for products in their portfolios.

The report concludes that academic-industry partnerships are growing in number and importance as “the translational gap between discovery and clinical development has become increasingly difficult to bridge.” The complementary nature of partnerships involving AMCs and biopharmaceutical companies increases synergies between the two sectors, ―enabling the nation’s R&D enterprise to tackle the most complex and challenging diseases and conditions.

How’s that for sunshine?


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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