Industry partnerships: building a framework for success | University of Oxford

Industry partnerships: building a framework for success

An innovative new service approach is formalising the Department of Oncology’s relationship with industry, increasing the reach of its equipment and expertise in support of life-changing research across the world.

test tubesIndustry partnerships: building a framework for success
The University of Oxford is a global leader in cancer research. But to translate research into better diagnostics, treatments and services for patients requires funding and development expertise from industry. By formalising its collaborations with industrial partners, the Department of Oncology is strengthening the global response to cancer – and boosting its own knowledge and funding.

The new approach was developed with Oxford University Innovation (OUI), which manages the University’s technology transfer and consulting activities. Vincent Coole from OUI’s Consulting Services Team started to develop the relationship with Oncology while managing a number of service engagements for them. This, and advisory work supporting spin-out companies, indicated the department would benefit from a more strategic process for industrial engagement.

“The department were already building productive relationships,” explains Coole. “But many academics lacked confidence in doing this. It also wasn’t clear that the department was getting the benefit it should from the collaborations. And because relationships sometimes lacked contracts or formal agreements, the University was rather exposed.”

Oncology research management staff worked with Coole and the OUI team to design the new framework, which ensures each industry interaction is supported by appropriate protocols and documentation while still allowing for creativity and flexibility.

The framework includes a standard operating procedure for commercial collaborations, model contract templates, and a model agreement managing industry access to equipment. OUI also supports Oncology’s newly formed spin-out companies, negotiates contracts for external service work, and provides marketing support to promote its resources and expertise.

“Developing the framework was interesting but challenging,” comments Coole. “Researchers and research managers were sometimes wary of entering into formal industry collaborations. Industry is often very sensitive about protecting its interests, particularly over confidentiality and profit, and the number and diversity of relationships made ‘standardisation’ complex. But Oncology really saw the potential benefits of the new approach and were enthusiastic partners in development.”

Since the framework was established in September 2019, eleven service projects have been established with pharmaceutical companies, government bodies, and academic institutions, providing services such as bioanalysis for drug development, genomic sequencing studies, and medical imaging for the development of radiopharmaceuticals.

“The new approach has already increased the number of Oncology’s commercial partnerships and generated more funding for the department,” explains Coole. “More than that, by putting everything on a sound footing, it lays the base for developing relationships of confidence and trust. This is where the real spark happens, and relationships can develop that go beyond a contract to do X or Y to longer-term collaborations, including sponsored research and industry-funded grants.”

Coole adds: “Oncology is the first University department to formalise its relationship with industry in this way. Given the challenging funding climate, which has been deepened by the COVID pandemic, collaboration with external partners seems ever more important. We hope to work with other departments to help them develop similar frameworks that will help them maximise engagement, funding, and impact.”

Vincent Coole is Principal Project Manager in the Consulting Services Team at Oxford University Innovation