Interactions Between Industry and Academia

During my professional career I have witnessed substantial qualitative and quantitative changes in science. Until no long ago, the timeframe journey from bench research to bedside application was measured in years and was the result of serendipitous interactions between basic scientists (typically PhDs) with little or no understanding of disease processes and clinicians with almost no background in basic science. Even if this connection was made, bringing technologies to clinical use required one more step, i.e. partnership with industry, a passage that was considered in the academic world a major taboo.

Scientists that interact with diagnostic or pharmaceutical industries were seen as “poisoned” by the evil of for-profit organizations that posed the risk of biased research. Therefore, the translation of breakthrough observations in clinical application beneficial for patients was a very unusual outcome.

Now science has taken a much more accelerated paste, with this bench to bedside journey occurring in real time, in a bidirectional fashion and focused mainly on translational, multidisciplinary science. There is now the general appreciation of the need of clear, ethically acceptable interactions between industry and academia with unbiased, scientifically-correct collaboration.

It is undisputable that the government that invest large amount of money in Research and Development would like to see this economic investment into fruition for taxpayers under the form of better care. It is also undisputable that the costs (~1 $ billion) and time (~15-20 years) to develop new diagnostic or therapeutic tools are unaffordable within academic boundaries.  Therefore, nowadays, we see the best science intellectually protected by academia to be developed in partnership with industry by forming spin-off companies from Universities.

This new approach has accelerated tremendously the process of translational science and the development of clinical tools that were unthinkable until the recent past.  It took a change of attitude from academia to appreciate that partnership with industry under appropriate conditions is acceptable and a change of attitude from industry to realize that pushing the outcome of collaborative research to their benefit and not to obtain honest answers will not pay in the long run.  The successful stories that we see nowadays are indeed the results of these changes of two worlds that are now working in synergy toward the common goal to improve the quality of life of humankind.

Alessio Fasano, MD
Director, Center for Celiac Research,
University of Maryland, School of Medicine (Baltimore, U.S.A.)

Professor of Pediatrics, Physiology and Medicine