In FY2016, the Office of Strategic Industry Initiatives was created to develop new and grow existing relationships between UTHealth faculty and industry collaborators, which range from the pharmaceutical sector to devices and software. The mission of the office is to enhance UTHealth faculty programs in order to facilitate drug, device, or software development and thereby increase translation of innovations to market to ultimately advance the quality of human life (the UTHealth mission). By increasing faculty-industry interactions and catalyzing promising relationships, both parties mutually benefit from productive conversations and collaborations to further their respective agendas. For example, UTHealth faculty may find valuable advice on next steps for developing a drug or device while a company may gain insight into a new pathway target or pathology for a particular therapeutic area.
Ultimately, these relationships will increase the number of industry-sponsored collaborations and lead to more agreements, including but not limited to confidentiality agreements, sponsored research agreements, collaboration agreements, clinical trials, and core service agreements. OSII works closely with Technology Management as well as Sponsored Project Administration, Research Compliance, Animal Welfare and Research & Academic Affairs to provide cohesion and connectivity between the various administrative charges in order to facilitate collaborations and proactively tackle potential hurdles.
To build the office, Associate Director Melissa Thompson has been meeting with a variety of faculty to explore the rich research landscape within UTHealth and developing a database of research interests, needs, and novel capabilities for two purposes: 1) search and advocate to potential industry partners on the faculty member’s behalf to engage in a collaboration and 2) suggest potential faculty collaborators as relationships are built between UTHealth and potential industry partners. For example, in a recent effort to engage a pharmaceutical company with limited knowledge of UTHealth, Dr. Thompson provided a list of faculty with whom the company may like to meet, based on the company’s interests, to discuss collaborative opportunities. The company then filtered that list and a “company day” was arranged.
Company days are two-fold. Typically, we ask the company to provide a seminar for our research community, including trainees and staff, to become familiar with the company, their areas of interest for external collaborations, and the structure that a collaborative project may take. Second, one-on-one meetings are scheduled between the company representatives and the faculty members identified as per the example given above. In some cases, confidentiality agreements between the company and UTHealth are put in place prior to the meeting; however, many of these initial meetings are non-confidential. After the company day, the representatives will provide feedback to the faculty members and any promising collaborations are further vetted with subsequent meetings, teleconferences, etc.
Note: The “company days” method of engagement is provided as an illustrative example but is one of many ways to engage a company. The method employed depends on the many factors and is determined by the company and the faculty member(s).
The process for establishing a research collaboration with an industrial partner depends on the company, the type of collaboration being considered, and the faculty member’s interest. Larger, complex collaborations that involve multiple parties can take a grant-like timeline of about a year or more to develop, while others that are smaller and less complex may happen more quickly (i.e. a couple of months). However, the idea that all collaborations with industry happen easily, quickly and with highly lucrative funding, is generally a myth.
Overall, industry partners that are considering research collaborations are interested in:
- The novelty of the approach (i.e. novel target, mechanism of action, etc.)
- The size of the market that would be effected, although bigger is not always better (consider the orphan disease case)
- The risk involved in development (likelihood of coming to market and becoming an effective product)
- The unique or novel capabilities of the faculty collaborator (i.e. novel animal model, large patient population, novel experimental technique, unique software tool, etc.)
Each of these considerations involve significant discussion to determine viability of the idea and viability of the collaboration.
All faculty members are encouraged to pursue industry collaborations and are not required to go through the OSII. However, OSII provides assistance in developing these concepts and promoting the concepts to the potential collaborator as well as connecting with various offices to manage projects. If you are interested in a potential collaboration but have not yet connected with Melissa Thompson, please send an email to arrange a meeting.