Industry-Sponsored Research Week

Purdue, Elanco form strategic partnership in animal health research under master research agreement

By David Schwartz
Published: April 7th, 2020

Purdue University, through its research foundation, and Elanco Animal Health, Inc. have inked a five-year agreement that will involve both collaborative research and talent training in major areas including animal science, structural biology, protein evolution and engineering, microbiome discovery and clinical veterinary medicine. The collaborative research will take place in Purdue’s labs under a master research agreement.

“What’s interesting is that a couple of years ago Elanco spun out from Eli Lilly and is now the number three animal health company in the world — soon to be number two — so they are like a 75-year-old start-up,” says David Broecker, chief innovation and collaboration officer for the Purdue Research Foundation. “Historically, they relied on Lilly for talent and research equipment. Now that they’re independent, they have to essentially create their own independent structure.”

In fact, adds Richard Kuhn, PhD, professor in the Purdue Department of Biological Sciences, “Purdue has had one-off collaborations with Elanco in the past. But what we have here is more of a grand plan to kind of coordinate the activities we do at Purdue with some of the things Elanco would be interested in. That always has to align with what our faculty and students feel is important to their work, but also has to fit commercial objectives for Elanco.”

The partnership “got off the ground,” says Kuhn, from personal associations between Elanco and Purdue staff. “Several of our former PhD students work there — one in particular had been [a student of] mine,” he shares. “He was aware of what we do here at Purdue, and how it could interface with the needs of Elanco, and that’s where it started.”

More detailed discussions followed, he continues. “They went along the lines of science and project use that was not one-dimensional, but which had additional components,” says Kuhn. “For example, Elanco may want to modify a protein and test it in animals. We may be able to look at the structure; another group might be able to engineer changes; and still another in veterinary school or agriculture might have animal models. It’s possible to put multi-disciplinary teams together to answer problems that may not be exactly in the Elanco wheelhouse.”

“Elanco has multiple needs,” adds Broecker. “Most companies are now turning to automated pieces of equipment more than mechanical.” Accordingly, he says he sees one of Purdue’s challenges as “how to create an environment around what had been a traditional strength of these companies. My favorite question is, ‘What’s your problem’? It leads to a whole set of things.”

To help answer that key question, the foundation hosted a one-day visit by Elanco last fall. “They went into it with areas one, two, and three, and at the end of the day said, ‘there’s much, much more than we even imagined,’” says Broecker, “and that helped catalyze this master collaborative agreement. It’s multi-dimensional, and touches on many colleges and areas of research. We’re deliberately trying to focus on early success and getting our organizations aligned, so we can figure out how to be an interdependent development partner.”

One specific in this partnership, says Broecker, is the fact that Elanco has asked one of their research scientists responsible for external collaboration to “co-habitate” at Purdue. “We created a place for him on campus, introduced him to professors and students, and gave him inside tours across campus so he could get a better understanding of the kinds of equipment Elanco might be able to access that they just can’t purchase,” says Broecker.

“Part of our commitment is that we said we wanted them to put a person here to work with our organization and to be exposed to as much as possible,” he adds. “I saw this person a week ago and he had a big smile on his face. He loves it; he’s probably met dozens of people — and this has only been six weeks.”

Kuhn is also pleased with this arrangement. “It means we have a person at the PhD level from Elanco who is now here several days a week and interacts with a broad set of faculty and students at Purdue,” he says. “He’s here to kind of assess what we do, how that matches with what they do, and broker some new collaborations based on him being here.”

A detailed article on the Purdue-Elanco partnership appears in the March issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For complete subscription details, click here.

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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