Building Partnerships Between Academia and Biosciences Companies - An innovative MBA program combines the elements of traditional business fundamentals with scientific concepts. - BioPharm


Building Partnerships Between Academia and Biosciences Companies
An innovative MBA program combines the elements of traditional business fundamentals with scientific concepts.

BioPharm International
Volume 23, Issue 5


The project teams are assembled and are composed of several students with similar interests but diverse professional backgrounds. Professors guide the team in the context of the academic exercise. The teams are introduced to the sponsor organizations and the project objectives in an initial meeting. At this time, the teams becomes familiar with the sponsor organizations, their mission, and interests. Project goals are defined and clarified as a precursor to project execution. Deliverables are defined by interaction with key members from the sponsor organization. Standing meetings are scheduled and arranged so that progress is monitored and directed by interactions with both professors and sponsors.

Generally, the project is planned and conducted for completion within an academic term. If additional work evolves beyond the term, a consecutive or follow-up practicum is arranged. The practicum is designed to emulate the biosciences environment and to foster teamwork. Given the time constraints of the project, organizational structure and discipline is imposed by the teams themselves. Generally, workloads are divided among team members as appropriate. The completion of intermediate milestones is mapped and progress tracked toward finalization. Facile access to a centralized database and project management tools are necessary, and therefore web-based user groups, MS Project, and Basecamp, are used.

The practicum culminates with a team presentation of its findings to the sponsors and NCSU professors. Additionally, a key value-added deliverable, summarizing important information and data gathered during the project, is provided to the sponsor.


The traditional business model of pharmaceutical development involves centralized decision-making with top company officials making choices regarding resource allocation. But as companies have grown larger and expanded globally, those executives have become more distant from the research. This leads to poor decisions, miscommunications, non-communications, fewer experimental drug candidates, and missed opportunities. Failure of this model to achieve success does not necessarily stem from a lack of good candidate products, but rather from the inability of the management to overcome the difficulties and challenges encountered in this new environment. As a result, reliance on smaller, more agile biosciences organizations to feed pipelines has become more prevalent, and a new paradigm based on biosciences–pharmaceutical partnering is evolving.3

Described here is one such project in which efforts were made to identify a subset of pharmaceutical companies suitable for partnering with a sponsor biosciences organization. The methodology used for screening the industry to identify potential partners is described and major deliverables explained.

The sponsor organization was The Hamner Institute for Health Sciences (Hamner). This research institution focuses on translational research in biotechnology and pharmaceutical safety. Hamner has been building on its successes in these areas and sought corporate alliances and partnerships to advance its efforts. The NCSU practicum team was assembled to facilitate a networking strategy that included students with experience in the focus area of metabolic disease research, specifically type 2 diabetes, as well as interests in building strategic alliances.4 Additionally, these students possess higher level life sciences degrees and currently work in bioprocessing and manufacturing in large pharmaceutical and startup biosciences companies.

The goals were to identify what major pharmaceutical companies were doing in the area of type 2 diabetes, and how these programs might gain from Hamner's research. Fundamental research from Hamner could help a company improve its R&D productivity by identifying novel pathways to target and help characterize existing lead molecules for clinical performance.

Figure 1
A flow-diagram (Figure 1) shows how a two-pronged approach was used to match the Hamner strengths with potential partners. First, the team conducted interviews with Hamner researchers involved in type 2 diabetes to gain an understanding of the ongoing research at Hamner and its core competencies. Next, the team categorized specific research projects to match internal strengths with industry needs.

Simultaneously, the team surveyed R&D and commercial activities in type 2 diabetes through a market analysis to gauge the commercial landscape and identify pharmaceutical companies with sustained efforts and long-term dedication. The focus of the survey was market size, availability of approved therapies, and corresponding R&D pipelines. Through this survey, it was determined that type 2 diabetes is a global, growing, and potentially lucrative market, currently dominated by five to six key pharmaceutical companies, and many potential partners exist in both industry and academia.

Figure 2
To evaluate the pool of potential partners, the team then used a systematic approach to score each partner based on the fit of its research pipeline and the strengths of Hamner. To accomplish this, the team created a template for patent searching to build a database for patent and literature information. The team examined patent activities, participation of companies in scientific meetings and publications, and classified R&D efforts as either internally focused or externally focused with a dependence on partnering and collaboration. The data were analyzed and scored for attributes of favorable partnerships in the major diabetes type 2 focus areas. The data are presented in Figure 2.

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