The key role of politicians, the need for the most daring research to be funded, and understanding technology transfer as a process that requires a permanent and open dialogue between the multiple agents involved are three of the key ideas on which the four experts participating in the round table Best Practices for Techtransfer in HealthTech, which took place on Monday 27 June, organised by Xartec Salut, agreed.
The round table, moderated by Elena Canetti -currently a partner at the private consultancy Inveniam Group, but with a long experience in the university environment, specifically at Yissum, a techtranfer entity of the Hebrew University of Israel-, addressed the main barriers to the commercialisation of innovations generated in academia.
“The objectives of academia and industry are different and, often, when contact is initiated with a view to transfer, the starting point is mutual ignorance, without prior dialogue, but expecting immediate results,” stressed Antonio Gómez, head of alliances at the Spanish subsidiary of Janssen (J&J), who contributed his experience in collaborative programmes such as Cancer Innova, with researchers from the University of Santiago de Compostela, the Xunta de Galicia, Jansen and Lilly. “What I have learned over the years is that getting to know the different stakeholders is difficult, that you have to start the relationship as a medium- to long-term process, manage expectations honestly and, together, find the right moment to materialise the agreement.
“Elena Canetti pointed out that at HealthTech we do not transfer patents, we transfer technology, which is constantly evolving. Therefore, a transfer agreement is only the beginning of a journey that the different partners have to make together.
For his part, Bernard Munos, a senior fellow at the Milken Institute’s FasterCures centre with more than 40 years of experience in the US pharmaceutical industry, believes that the cultural shift that has taken place in health-related industries over the past 20 years requires capabilities that are not always present in companies. “To drive transfer, the industry has to have people capable of managing innovation networks, and this is not an innate ability, it has to be developed. Now, in order to innovate, you have to look outside the company itself, have a clear road map to follow, and what the key stakeholders are at each stage, and establish ongoing relationships. It is a cultural change. For Munos, the success of business models based on very light structures, which carry out each stage of product development with different collaborators, and which can be quickly reorganised or reconstituted if the project fails, is evidence that to accelerate transfer and innovation, a cultural change is also needed in the industry.
Henric Rhedin, now head of External Research at Volvo, but with years of experience in university and biomedical research transfer at Chalmers University of Technology and the Institute of Medicine at the University of Gothenburg, also spoke about cultural change. For Rhedin, the key is how research is funded and how it is organised: “Today, too often the orientation of research depends more on internal issues of the research system itself than on societal needs and challenges. And it is true that in medicine, all researchers are clear about the end user, when they do research they do it with their patient in mind, but we should probably invest more in preventing people from getting sick than in curing them. And this depends on where you put the money to fund research. For Rhedin, it is essential to reach out to policy makers and incorporate them as an agent in the process of transfer and innovation.
In this sense, the four speakers agreed on the need to bring politicians closer to the technology transfer process and to make them understand all its implications. “In the US, the National Institutes of Health alone invests $40 billion in research each year, but traditionally these funds go to ‘safe’ research, not to the more daring research that can bring more disruptive innovations. It is very difficult to change this system, because there are many interests at the bottom. That is why it is essential to bring politicians closer to the academy, so that they understand the implications of their decisions and bet on the risk that can bring more innovation,” said Bernard Munos.
In this context, the speakers agreed on the importance of public-private collaboration, and gave as an example the speed with which vaccines for COVID-19 were developed. It was a response to a crisis,” acknowledged Henric Rhedin, “but the cost of healthcare is a real social crisis to which we have to respond.
“Years ago, at an international conference,” explained Munos, “someone asked the managers of large pharmaceutical companies how the average 10-year development time for a drug could be shortened to a few weeks. And everyone without exception said it was impossible. But we have done it. The lesson is clear: you have to go after the impossible to make it possible”.
Watch again the Round Table “Best practices for technology transfer in Healthtech”, organised by Xartec Salut
This project is co-financed by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).