Life Science Entrepreneurs – Learn From Our Expert Panel

If you weren't able to join us online at Life Science Entrepreneurs in September, you're in luck! We've asked three members of our panel to reflect on some of the burning questions posed by fellow alumni at the event. How do you maintain a positive relationship with big pharma? Which spin-outs will thrive in the years to come? And, how can you balance your academic and commercial workloads?  Let's learn from the experts...

Professor James Leiper, BHF

Professor James Leiper

James Leiper is Professor of Molecular Medicine at the University of Glasgow and the BHF’s most newly appointed Associate Medical Director, joining us in April 2020. In 2017 he co-founded Cambridge-based Critical Pressure Ltd, a virtual biopharmaceutical company developing products to treat vascular dysfunction and shock, and is now their Chief Scientific Officer.

How do you recommend managing the balance between your academic work, and your commercial enterprise?

The tension between academic activities and commercial work arises, in part, from two significant differences between these activities:

  • Academic excellence is largely judged on the research one publishes and research grant income, whereas in the commercial world intellectual property (patents and key know-how) is highly valued. Indeed, in the commercial world publication of research data and know-how can sometimes be perceived as weakening the intellectual property position.
  • The timelines for academic work predominantly fit to a 3 or 5 year cycle whereas commercial activities such as drug discovery may take much longer (up to 15 years). As researchers are employed on academic contracts there is an understandable pressure to prioritise academic activities over commercial enterprise.

Balancing these activities requires good communication between researchers and their host institutions and an appreciation that commercial activity is a valuable research output. Many research institutions have now recognised commercial activity in the appraisal of research output and, in some institutions, funds are available to support this. Longer term research funding in the form of Centre and Institute awards also contribute to the production of a more stable research environment in which high risk high gain commercial activities are possible.

Professor Charalambos Antoniades

Professor Charalambos Antoniades

Charis Antoniades is a Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Oxford, where he is also Deputy Head of the Cardiovascular Medicine Division. He is currently in receipt of a BHF Translational Award, which supports the development of innovative technologies that improve the diagnosis and treatment of CVD. In 2018, Charis founded Caristo Diagnostics, a medical imaging company transforming the diagnostic accuracy of routine coronary CT angiograms, used to identify patients with suspected heart disease. He is now the company’s Chief Scientific Officer.

When collaborating with industry, particularly big pharma or diagnostics, what have you found makes successful relationships?

In any collaboration with industry, we always need to define, up-front, what we want to take out of the collaboration as academics, and understand what the industrial partner is looking for. When these two are defined and are compatible to each other, they need to be clearly captured in a contract from the beginning. For example, if the objective is to publish the results (positive or negative), this needs to become very clear from the beginning. Typically industry wants to review any output first, and decide whether to keep it confidential, file a patent and/or publish a scientific paper. On the other hand, the academics want to publish the results, file a patent if that does not delay the publication and does not want to keep any result confidential.

There is a fine balance between these approaches, and both parties need to be comfortable with what will be decided up-front. An important element is always the clear definition of any background intellectual property, and a clear mechanism to identify and register any new IP that comes from the collaboration. These relationships can get very complex, but a good contract that would reflect the agreements between you and the industrial partner is the foundation of a successful partnership. Following this first step, a good partnership relies on honesty and delivering against timelines. The most common reason for tensions, is always the result of over-promising and under-delivering.

Dr Anne Lane

Dr Anne Lane

Dr Anne Lane is CEO of UCL Business (UCLB), the commercialisation company of UCL and its partner, NHS Trusts. UCLB helps bring to market world-leading healthcare technologies. Over 2018-19, UCL spin-outs attracted over £550m of external investment, leading to life-changing innovations in medical solutions. Anne acts as Director and Interim CEO on several of UCLB’s spinout companies, as well as overseeing all the company’s licensing activity for biotech and technology innovations.

Looking to the horizon, do you have any predictions, short- and/or long-term, for the start-ups and spin-outs that will thrive?

My predictions for companies that will thrive are those that are:

  • Flexible 
  • Able to adapt (sometimes rapidly) to their environments 
  • Customer-focussed (whether that customer is a patient or other consumer)
  • Run by a quality management team with an underlying quality technology

I think future successful technology areas in the next 2-5 years are those in gene and cell therapies – these have enabled scientists to develop novel approaches that allow targeted therapies for cancer, allowing far less toxicity and an individualised approach (where these are autologous cell therapies). These technologies have also allowed, or will allow, previously untreatable genetic diseases, such as the various forms of haemophilia, to be addressed.

I think emerging patient data assets, particularly from the NHS, coupled with AI, will also start to underpin future successful spin-outs, again over the next 2-5 years. Like cell and gene therapies, these will support development of individualised treatments, and patient stratification. Identification of specific patient groups should also allow better and more targeted clinical trial design. That should result in cost-savings and ultimately cheaper therapies for patients.

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James Leiper

Charalambos Antoniades

Anne Lane

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