Industry-Sponsored Research Week
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Industry partnerships coming in more varieties as universities gain leverage

By David Schwartz
Published: March 14th, 2017

Examples of innovative sponsored research arrangements between universities and corporations are increasingly common. One veteran tech transfer executive says that’s at least in part a function of the corporate side of the equation improving its input into the collaborations.

“This may not make me overly popular in some circles,” comments Larry Hope, associate director of new ventures and business development at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC), Houston, “but for years, industry was arguably abusive to academic partners.” He explains: “Significant research efforts were built around ‘free drugs’ or ‘free equipment’ models, where industry would provide minimal support and negotiate to own or otherwise encumber all intellectual property developed. Most academic scientists were willing victims in the scheme.”

Many, he says, “considered this sort of arrangement a ‘win.’ There are certainly times when this arrangement can make sense, when coupled with true research funds to support the work. But it is not the preferred model. In fact, ‘free drugs’ has become a bit of a joke with our team. We simply will not engage in these sorts of lopsided relationships.”

Instead, he adds, corporate sponsors are increasingly on board with what he terms “an ideal relationship,” which “involves truly aligned views of the project, the goals and the economics. Usually, an outside company has developed or is developing something truly unique. If it does not recognize that the MDACC is also making a unique and valuable contribution to the project, the relationship is likely doomed.” He adds: “Most of our modern deals have a research phase with predetermined commercialization economics.”

And his institution has a lot of those “modern deals.” MDACC, he says, is involved “in many on several fronts.” Models vary, but include these:

  • large multi-year, multi-product clinical trials;
  • start-ups that sponsor a significant portion of research back to the institution in the early years;
  • asset LLCs run in a very capital-efficient, virtual mode while assets are being de-risked; and
  • large collaborative deals that include a preclinical phase, a clinical phase and license/commercialization economics, all negotiated on the front end.

A variation on the theme is “a marriage of outside IP with MDACC IP/expertise with predetermined economics,” Hope adds. In general, he stresses, “industry-sponsored research is highly encouraged by our senior administration,” which “has literally removed barriers and brought in individuals with a more proactive, entrepreneurial mindset to allow the institution and our group to flourish.”

And here’s why, he emphasizes: “There are brilliant scientists and clinicians at MDACC. They are great at inventing and getting to a proof-of-concept stage. But, in general, we simply do not have the ability to complete the development cycle. An outside commercial entity must be involved at some point to provide focus and funds to move most projects forward efficiently.”

One recent example is what Baylor College of Medicine termed its “landmark sponsored research collaboration” with Cell Medica. The deal, according to a Baylor statement, represents “a significant milestone in efforts to develop a new class of life-saving cancer therapy.”

Under the arrangement, Baylor provided Cell Medica with an exclusive worldwide license to its proprietary Natural Killer T-cell immunotherapy platform, five undisclosed product candidates and an option to license additional product candidates arising out of sponsored research, reports Andrew Wooten, executive director at Baylor’s Innovation Development Center (IDC). Baylor is responsible for pre-clinical and Phase I studies, he adds, and Cell Medica is responsible for Phase II and Phase III clinical development and subsequent commercialization. In parallel, Cell Medica will “use its substantial experience in manufacturing clinical-grade cell therapies to establish robust production processes suitable for industrial scale-up,” the statement adds.

“We felt very strongly that our interests are best served by staying involved in development through Phase I studies,” Wooten notes. He helped structure the co-development collaboration and will oversee Baylor’s alliance management function. “Cell Medica recognized that we have excellent facilities and translational research capabilities within the Department of Pediatrics and the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy to perform this work. At the same time, we recognized our need for a focused commercial partner to help guide these early-stage activities. And obviously we need a partner to take over later-stage development, manufacturing and commercialization.”

That’s why the deal structure — which he calls “a complex relationship” that “takes advantages of each partner’s strengths” — is “embodied in multiple agreements, including a license and option agreement, a co-development agreement and multiple specific industrial research agreements.”

This complete article appears in the April issue of Industry-Sponsored Research Management. To subscribe and access the full article, or request the premiere issue free, CLICK HERE

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