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Building Relationships with Industry, how can ENTENTE help out ?

Building Relationships with Industry, how can ENTENTE help out ?

Olivier Lescroart
Technology Transfer Officer – K.U.Leuven Research & Development
Leader Entente WP3

Experience has shown that technology transfer in the sense of translating the science of public research institutes into products and services for the public benefit is a hard job in any scientific discipline.

To get a better insight in the technology transfer process within the field of health and why it can be hard at times, ENTENTE organized a one day Advisory Board Meeting gathering experts from industry, venture capital and technology transfer offices, which was hosted by the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) in Barcelona on November 21, 2013.

The purpose of this meeting was to confront the views, opinions and frustrations of the different stakeholders in a frank and open-minded discussion in order to identify what drives and what hinders the technology transfer process and what can be done to improve it. 

The meeting started off on a positive note considering that there was a general consensus that the on-going European academic health research provides a good basis for developing and expanding technology transfer activities. However, in order to fully realize this potential it is crucial that a more general positive attitude towards translational research and technology transfer develops among the European academic researchers.

Formal mechanisms aiming at motivating researchers to consider and elaborate on the socioeconomic aspects of their research (such as the growing importance of socio-economic impact in the evaluation of research proposals) are being implemented, but it will take time before their effects become evident. Although the relevance of these formal mechanisms was not disputed, the advisors indicated that in their experience frequent interactions between academic researchers and industry R&D representatives is the most important initiator of technology transfer.

These interactions are crucial for academic researchers to develop insight into the market relevance of their research and the ever changing needs of industry. Facilitating these interactions should be a primary objective of the technology transfer offices. Particularly when an initial contact between a researcher or research group and an industrial partner moves towards an intention to collaborate, adequate support of the TTO in the negotiation and formalization of the terms and conditions of the collaboration is of material importance. In the negotiation process the TTO should aim for a balanced agreement that duly considers the needs of the industrial partner, while duly considering the interests and objectives of the researcher and the research institute.

This not only requires that a TTO develops the necessary competences and skills, but also that it is able to build trust relationships with the researchers, the institutional hierarchy and its industrial partners. The industry advisors voiced the concern that TTOs should not limit their role as facilitator to the negotiation and formalization of agreements, but that they also need to engage in the targeted communication of available technology and expertise in order to assist the industry in its search for suitable research partners. This message was well-received by the TTO representatives who acknowledged that in general this ‘marketing’ activity should be expanded, but that within the available resource TTOs tend to prioritize the finalization of pending and the management of existing agreements.

This prioritization is partly motivated by the observation that the initial contacts leading to new research collaborations with industry most often occur through the researchers. This again illustrates that technology transfer is in first instance driven by the interactions between the industry R&D staff and the academic researchers.

Therefore, a main conclusion of the meeting was that initiatives aiming at promoting technology transfer should involve assistance and motivation for academic researchers to develop and maintain their contacts with industry R&D staff and vice versa. However, these contacts can only materialize in fruitful collaborations when there is mutual trust between the parties. The TTOs have a crucial role in building and maintaining this trust by providing a professional framework for negotiating and managing such collaborations.

More information on the ENTENTE Advisory Board Meeting in Barcelona can be found in the meeting minutes

In consideration of the importance of developing and maintaining interactions between academic institutes and industry, the ENTENTE project dedicated a section of its website
Collaboration Opportunities  - to announcements of the health industry relating to collaboration opportunities. At this moment we ask your particular attention for the GSK Discovery Fast Track Challenge, a unique opportunity to partner with GSK. Finally, we call upon you all to communicate Health Industry announcements on collaboration opportunities to ENTENTE as to allow us to further distribute this information within the ENTENTE growing community.

Editorial from Newsletter 3, April 2014

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Programme for 
research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No 305128
  ENTENTE is supported by the European Commission and coordinated by Inserm-Transfert SA