Priorities for university-industry collaboration after the pandemic

Building on the conversations from our previous two webinars and the outcomes of our open call for research, this blog provides a summary of our most recent webinar, what’s next for the university-industry ecosystem after COVID-19?, which covered the key priorities for university-industry collaboration that academia, industry and research commercialisation professionals are focusing on, and the lessons we’ve learnt about what approaches can be taken forward and potentially reapplied to address other global challenges.

Meet the panellists…

Deborah Spencer, Deputy Head of Industrial Partnerships, (University of Oxford)

Deborah is responsible for developing activities under the Industrial Strategy across the University of Oxford and engages with industry to build partnerships that leverage the unique academic strengths from within the university.  

Kenny Simmen, VP Infectious Diseases & Vaccines, (Johnson & Johnson Innovation)

Kenny joined the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies in 1997 and has global responsibility for sourcing pipeline opportunities and collaborations for the Janssen Infectious Diseases & Vaccines team in the Innovation Centers

Dr Hamid Merchant, Subject Leader in Pharmacy, (University of Huddersfield)

Hamid has over 18 years of experience in pharmaceutical research and development both from industry and academia. His expertise includes novel formulation design, biopharmaceutics, pharmacokinetics, bioavailability and bioequivalence.


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Vaccine approval and diversification

Currently, COVID-19 vaccines are only approved for emergency use, so it is imperative that they receive full BLA approval. There is also the challenge of developing approaches to protect certain populations who cannot be vaccinated or for who current vaccines are less effective, which will involve investigating alternative and supporting adjuvants. Furthermore, the panellists highlighted the importance of ensuring that vaccines can be deployed to all nations that have been unable to access enough units to protect their populations.

Once a significant number of the global adult population has been vaccinated, our panellists indicated that we’ll still need longer-term strategies to integrate the COVID-19 vaccine program into other areas of healthcare, such as adapting the delivery method for vaccinating children, creating a combined flu and COVID-19 vaccine, as well as vaccinating animal populations to prevent further mutations and transmission.

Continuing to test and reuse existing interventions

Another one of the priorities for university-industry collaborations is the continuation of testing existing pharmaceuticals that have the potential to be repurposed as COVID-19 treatments, for use in the current pandemic and to prepare for future pandemics. Additionally, throughout the pandemic, large public-private consortia have formed to enable companies to work more efficiently with academic teams and competitors to increase the efficacy of distribution and research networks, and these need to be nurtured and maintained.

Furthering our understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus

A priority that Hamid outlined is improving the scientific community’s understanding of the pathology and immunology of COVID-19 to enable the prediction of future variants and to influence treatment development. He also emphasised the importance of research into long covid, in order to support and minimise the societal impact through targeted-symptom therapeutics.


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Unlocking new research in associated fields

The coronavirus pandemic has illustrated the importance of the continuous development of therapeutics and treatments for infectious diseases, respiratory pathology and inflammation in a variety of diseases, which have all seen renewed interest. Our panellists have found opportunities to work on areas of research that became prioritised during the pandemic that had previously been underfunded. Companies have received government funding to look at repurposing drugs to improve pandemic preparedness and address other diseases such as dementia. There has also been increased interest in breakthrough fields such as mRNA vaccines, which need improvements in stability, delivery and storage. 

Preparing for the next pandemic

In terms of looking ahead at priorities for university-industry collaboration after the pandemic, our panellists discussed the need for a multipronged approach to prepare for future pandemics, to not rely completely on immunisation, and to look into other methods to treat and prevent infection. For instance, this could be done using a personalised medicine approach to ensure everyone has the best protection and treatment. Our panellists also agreed about the need for strong pandemic preparedness and predicting interventions before they are needed, to better control the spread of disease and contain outbreaks where they first occur.


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Strengthening university-industry relations with the wider ecosystem

Our panellists also agreed that there needs to be continued collaboration between public health agencies, governments, industry and academia early in the development of technologies to maximise the effectiveness of the partnerships. The sharing of materials, clinical data and other resources between partners and within consortia greatly helped to produce effective technologies within a short time. Our panellists have indicated that in the future,  organisations like IN-PART that are designed to bridge the gap between academia and industry will continue to play an increasingly significant role in effective research collaboration.

Clear communication of public health information

The communication of COVID-19 related health information was a key concern noted by our panellists. The volume of false or misleading information that was readily available on the internet caused the introduction of new legislation to suppress the spread of misinformation on social media platforms. This was an important lesson to learn in the digital age. However, our panellists highlighted how legislation suppressed scientific debate and open dialogue causing larger longer-term issues and divides between the scientific community and the general public. Hamid emphasised the importance of this dialogue between scientific communities and the public remaining open moving forward.


Access the full recording of the webinar:


Written by Fran Wilkinson. Edited by Alex Stockham and Ruth Kirk.

Copyrights reserved unless otherwise agreed – IN-PART Publishing Ltd., 2021: ‘Priorities for university-industry collaborations after the pandemic

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Image credit in order of appearance:julian paolo dayag / Unsplash Licence, prasesh shiwakot / Unsplash Licence, lisanto / Unsplash Licence

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