The future of the university-industry relationship

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching impacts, and will likely continue to do so as we begin to navigate our way out of it. We recently spoke with three thought-leaders from industry, academia, and research commercialisation about the lessons they’ve learnt from the pandemic and the future of the university-industry relationship.


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The future of the university-industry relationship

Whilst the pandemic is not yet over, the international rollout of vaccines will hopefully mean we will soon see the light at the end of the tunnel. We posed the question to our panellists about the future of the university-industry relationship, and the following article provides the summary of the key talking points from each of our panellists:

What will the next one, two, and five years look like for the university-industry community? 

Kenny Simmen, from Johnson & Johnson, provides the view from industry:

The flow of information around research has become much easier and quicker as we’ve embraced digital communication, and this alters commercialisation timelines as well as the expectations around information exchange between industry and academia. This is likely to continue into the future even once the pandemic has eased. Overall, this will hopefully drive a more rapid translation of research and development into viable products that are commercialisable for the market.

Perhaps what hasn’t been highlighted much as yet is the role that venture capital will have to play over the next few years – in particular, answering the question of where they sit in the future of university-industry collaborations. For every technology progressing towards commercialisation, there must always be a viable market model.

During the pandemic, not-for-profit licensing has been used to great effect, but in the longer term, there is a need for venture capital to stimulate interaction and collaboration between universities and industry too, and not just leaving it to pharmaceutical companies. Moreover, venture capitalists are starting to take a more philanthropic approach to investments, and in light of the extent of the impacts of the pandemic around the world, hopefully, we’ll begin to see more of this.

Deborah Spencer, from the University of Oxford, gives a research commercialisation perspective:

Venture capital will certainly play an important role in supporting our progress out of the pandemic, and in the preparation for future pandemics through donations to research and university-industry consortia. We are seeing the beginning of this in the development of bodies such as Oxford’s Pandemic Sciences Centre.

The acceleration of research projects will continue into the future, and the new digital aspects and technological approaches used by healthcare services will likely be here to stay. The pandemic has stretched healthcare services around the world to the brink, and the new technologies, such as patient monitoring, will likely become an integral part of their operating process in the future.

Whilst a large proportion of scientific research has focussed on developing vaccines and the discovery of new therapeutics to treat COVID-19, there have also been many other novel technologies developed in response to the pandemic, which will go on to impact communities and societal groups outside of the disease and into the future.

Dr Hamid Merchant, from The University of Huddersfield, provides the view from academia:

A key challenge that has arisen from the pandemic is how to teach and support university students remotely, as campuses across the world have closed to keep staff and students safe. This has had a major impact on researchers and lecturers as they have focussed on new learning and teaching strategies for students, often pushing the limits on what they can provide. Additionally, universities have had to address how their current approaches can support students as they move from college to university, often creating new strategies through digital technologies.

Overall, there has been a slowing of university research to achieve this, as staff struggle to provide teaching and support in a completely new capacity. Over the next few years, researchers will need support to focus once more on their research.

Hamid agreed that venture capital funding is essential for success in the future of university-research collaboration. If there is a lack of early funding and support for commercialisation, ideas, research and technology from universities will move immediately into open access, which makes it difficult for industry to commercialise them later on and important public interest projects might miss out on commercial motivation.

It’s important for technologies to be protected with IP early in the research process along with early investments, and as the pandemic has highlighted the importance of university-industry collaboration, hopefully, we’ll see more of this in the future. Certainly, more help and support to bridge the gap would be welcome in the future for university-industry collaboration.

Alex Stockham, our Communications & Marketing Manager, provides the view from IN-PART’s position at the university-industry interface: 

The pandemic has without a doubt raised the profile of university-industry collaboration. As a consequence, we expect that this will inspire a new generation of academic researchers by highlighting the route to drive impact from research at a much earlier stage than perhaps had been realised before now. Hopefully it will mean more academics will engage in challenge-driven research.

The success of university-industry collaboration in addressing the pandemic has also been a chance to show how agile technology transfer can be, and what can be achieved over short time periods with novel approaches to licensing. It would be great to replicate these lessons and continue to apply them in the future to other major challenges, finding smarter ways to connect and grow the research community.

Research commercialisation is no longer limited by some of the old traditional processes and it has shown that it can move fast and solve global problems. Hopefully, this will attract new talent and bring brighter and more forward-thinking minds into the field.


Access the full recording of the webinar:


Written by Ruth Kirk. Edited by Jake Mitchell.

Copyrights reserved unless otherwise agreed – IN-PART Publishing Ltd., 2021: ‘What’s the future for university-industry collaboration as we move forward from the pandemic?

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