The value of collaboration for translating research innovations into commercially viable products

27th April 2015

JMD photo2 2Dr Janet Davies discusses how collaboration is helping her make headway with her allergy discovery

My basic research has shown that in people suffering from allergic conditions such as hay fever and asthma, the immune system can respond differently to pollen allergens from subtropical and temperate grasses, depending on which grass they are most exposed to (see Channel 7 story). With new grass pollen allergy vaccine tablets for temperate grasses having just received regulatory approval as drugs in Australia and the US, my new research aims to fill the market need for an improved allergen immunotherapy vaccine targeting subtropical grass pollens. This project, supported by NFMRI, aims to develop tools necessary for future development of subtropical grass pollen allergy vaccines that will meet the growing needs of patients in subtropical regions of Australia, Asia, Africa and America.

The NFMRI aims to enable research to advance beyond the initial discovery phase, addressing the need for funding to move innovations closer to readiness for engagement of a commercial partner, i.e. one more step further across the so-called valley of death. The portfolio 2 grant awarded by the NFMRI will not only allow me to achieve specific developmental research objectives, but importantly, it opens up an opportunity to acquire necessary skills in the process of pre-commercial development.

At some stage in the lifespan of a project, researchers may reach a point where they realise they don’t have all the necessary skills in their own laboratory. Scientists are very resourceful, capable of rapid uptake of new information and able to adopt new skills quickly, but sometimes the best place to accomplish certain tasks might be within a specialist core facility. Collaboration between researchers from different fields provides access to new thought processes, equipment, systems and skills not available to each party.   An effective collaboration is mutually beneficial and productive, not just in a financial sense, but as an opportunity for exchange of knowledge and experience.

Whilst there can be legal complexities and administrative processes to consider in relation to collaboration on commercially sensitive research, the benefits of working collaboratively outweigh these hurdles.   It might seem counter intuitive to seek external expertise to advance an innovation that has commercial potential. However, with due consideration for contractual arrangements and a strong intellectual property position, accessing essential skills in a timely manner may provide the advantage of fast-tracking research development. Personally, I find working in collaboration a rewarding, encouraging and educational process.

Close collaborations with Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology (Queensland) and ThermoFisher (Sweden), as well as a national team of clinical investigators, recently helped me develop to pre-commercial stage a new companion diagnostic test for Bahia grass pollen (see Courier mail). This NFMRI grant is helping me build new collaborations with scientists at the Monash Antibody Technologies Facility and the University of Queensland Protein Expression Facility. Repeated engagements with these industry and academic partners have provided me with experiential opportunities to learn the different approaches employed in commercial organisations and across disciplines.

The recent McKeon Review highlighted the need for enhanced collaboration between academia and industry to enable Australia to improve its capacity to translate our research discoveries into commercially viable products and biomedical interventions. Additionally, both the Australian Innovation System Report 2013 and the Global Innovation Index 2014 recognise research as an advantageous characteristic of successful businesses. This increasing recognition of the benefits of research and innovation for industry may encourage businesses and scientists to interact more with one other. This doesn’t always happen naturally, so by fostering the processes of translating scientific innovation, NFMRI plays a key “broker-like” role in linking academic researchers with the commercial sector. This NFMRI initiative will be valuable for “accelerating translation” of research innovations in Australia.

I’m looking forward to strengthening my new connections with collaborators from other institutes and to achieving the project outcomes in a timely manner. Support from NFMRI is an excellent opportunity to enable steps in the progression of my allergy research discoveries into new therapeutics for subtropical grass pollen allergy.

Dr Janet Davies is a Senior Research Fellow, School of Medicine at The University of Queensland.

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