Home Blog Shared values & common goals: why medical research charities work with industry

Shared values & common goals: why medical research charities work with industry

This week we launched our revised An Essential Partnership: a guide for charities working with industry. We hope this is helpful for charities interested in knowing how and why they might go about working with industry. ‘Collaboration’ is definitely a hot topic at the moment – it was the main theme running through our annual conference last month and Martin wrote a guest blog for the BIA explaining why collaboration really is king. Our new guide is brimming with almost 40 new case studies showcasing the various ways that charities and industry are working together and what each partner can bring to the table. So on Monday 8th December, we brought the sector together for a one day masterclass explaining how charities can go about working with industry, some top tips from those who have done it and what next. In this blog, we summarise the main themes of the day and where next.

Why collaborate?

Kicking things off, we heard from our chief executive Aisling Burnand who outlined the aim of the day and officially launched our revised Essential Partnership. Aisling said

This new guidance sets the scene for collaborative working between charities and industry. Our community knows that if we are to bring new, more effective treatments to patients more quickly, we can’t work in isolation. The costs and expertise required cannot be met by one organisation alone. We must collaborate, and this guide gives great examples of how partnerships between charities and industry can really make a difference, from international consortia in dementia, to patient registries for rare genetic conditions

We then heard from the co-chairs of our Industry–Charity Advisory Group, Dr Sohaila Rastan (Action on Hearing Loss) and Dr Malcolm Skingle (GSK) discussing what charities and industry can bring to partnerships. Sohaila outlined how charities are a vital part of the research ecosystem bringing funding, access to new research opportunities, market intelligence, insight into the ‘patient voice’ and a direct link to patients. Charities can also play a key role in bringing the different sectors together and can offer a unique perspective to influence regulators and healthcare providers – something that we touched on in a previous workshop on adoption of research in the NHS. Malcolm outlined the changes in the charity–pharma environment over the last 20 years and how these are facilitating partnerships today. He discussed what industry is looking for in a strategic partnership and common pitfalls to avoid in collaborative working.

Scoping out research collaboration with industry

Next we had three examples showcasing how different funders are working with industry. Dr Stephen Simpson from Arthritis Research UK talked about how the charity prepared to partner by defining the scale of musculoskeletal problems and the size and nature of investment needed for impact. Dr Rosa Sancho from Alzheimer’s Research UK talked about their Dementia Consortium with Eisai, Lilly and MRC Technology which provides a mechanism to enable promising early-stage academic research to progress to pharma-standard drug discovery through preclinical target validation, thereby de-risking targets to make them more commercially attractive. Next we heard from Dr Chris Watkins from MRC. Chris talked about how the MRC is working with charity and industry partners from the MRC / Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma with £2m investment from MRC matched with £2m from GSK to the Stratified Medicine Initiative with 41 commercial partners. A common theme arising from this session was the need to educate researchers in the skills of drug discovery.

Collaborating with industry in academia and the NHS

In the next session we covered some of the trials and tribulations of getting collaborations off the ground in academia and the NHS. Dr Cynthia Ugochukwu from Oxford University Hospitals covered the legal provisions in contracts and agreements and gave some practical tips on using model contract and common hurdles that can hold up progress in establishing a collaboration. Dr Anna Oblensky from British Heart Foundation went on to discuss the practicalities of charities engaging with industry through six steps: 1) understanding industry needs, 2) picking the right company, 3) exercising impartiality, 4) contacting the right person in the company, 5) knowing when and how to approach industry and 6) knowing what makes the technology attractive.

The changing environment

In the last session, we had 3 speakers discussing the changing environment – something that is a major focus for us in An Essential Partnership. John Wilkinson from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) outlined regulatory aspects in relation to medicines and devices and the important role of charities representing the patient voice in the regulatory landscape. Steve Bates, chief executive of the UK Bioindustry Association talked about the opportunities that policies such as adaptive licensing and the early access to medicines scheme can bring. He also discussed what the future may hold through advances in stratified medicine, gene therapies and increasingly complex collaborative ventures with multiple funders and smaller, more nimble biotechnology firms.

Finally, we heard from Mike Johnson and David Pardoe from MRC Technology about the Neurodegeneration Medicines Acceleration Programme (Neuro-MAP) whose partners include Alzheimer’s Association (US), Alzheimer Research UK, Alzheimer’s Society (UK), ALS Association, Michael J Fox Foundation, MND Association, MRC Technology, Northern Health Science Alliance, and Parkinson’s UK. Neuro-MAP will see charities and funding bodies drive forward research on drugs in pharmaceutical companies’ libraries that are not currently being developed, after which they will be returned to the company for testing in large-scale clinical trials. This is a fantastic example of how different organisations can come together to drive forward innovation in an area where drug development is perceived as being too low. MRC-Technology is also interested in using the same model used in Neuro-MAP for other disease areas and they welcome interested charities to get in touch with them.

So what did people think? 

All in all, we thought this was a really successful day and we’re so please to be launching our revised guide at a time when many charities are thinking of developing their own research collaborations with industry. We also had some really great feedback from those who came along:

Now we know which models are out these and who we should start talking to

I hope to build more relationships with charities

This was an excellent meeting of a very high standard with lots of interesting ideas. More please!

Collaboration with industry is clearly an important area for charities and if we are to develop new drugs, diagnostics and devices that patients so desperately need, charities can’t work in isolation. AMRC intends to build on this momentum next year with more events, new resources and more opportunities for knowledge sharing and networking. If you are interested in finding out more, and if you would like hard copies of the guide, please get in touch with Andy.