The power of pharma partnerships

Dec. 7, 2022
An open collaboration approach can help biopharma companies keep pace with rapid change

Developing a new product is a bit like cycling from London to Paris. The idea and vision are thrilling. But to make it a reality takes grit and perseverance. Maybe you’ll suffer a punctured tire, or your prototype will fail to pass initial testing. To solve these challenges, you might need outside help from a French bike mechanic or, in the case of new product development, an external consultant.

What I’ve described is how we typically think of collaboration. One project driver supported by experts in a journey towards a goal. Yet, in the rapidly moving biomanufacturing space, collaboration often means two parties speeding towards two separate but related goals who find a mutually beneficial way to work together.

I want to tell you about two projects that showcase this approach to collaboration. Both examples show that collaboration accelerates progress, can help overcome challenges, as well as generate new broadly beneficial ideas.

Staying close to research and future talent

Back in 2018, when I was leading a Pall LS R&D team, the company launched a seven-year program with University College London’s (UCL) biochemical engineering department. The ‘Center of Excellence’ aimed to create new scientific knowledge by training nine doctoral students and two post-doctoral students in areas of bioprocess engineering of interest to both partners.

Four years later, we can say the collaboration has been fruitful. There has been a series of technical publications, conference presentations, and peer-reviewed publications. In addition, a Pall LS associate, Nigel Jackson, was recently appointed as an Honorary Lecturer at UCL. For the university, the collaboration means more department funding, stronger industry connections, and brighter career prospects for its students. 

But this collaboration goes beyond academic achievement. Our connections with UCL and other universities gives us insight into the latest scientific research. This is important as it is often academia where the first signs of industry transformation begin. In terms of talent, we can also make connections with early-career high-potential students while supporting retention of existing staff, by getting them involved in supervising the Ph.D. projects.

As CTO, I am passionate about furthering our reputation as a research-driven organization and what has been achieved so far with UCL makes me excited for the next steps. This could be replicating the model in other leading universities as well as broadening the scope beyond traditional engineering into new areas.

Keeping pace with training needs

If I think back to 2016, the biomanufacturing industry was in a very different place. Stainless steel bioreactors were the norm, and this is what National Institute of Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT) was using for its training courses. However, to facilitate the rise of biologics, including monoclonal antibodies, then the fastest growing class of drugs, there was a need to adopt more single-use technologies which offered greater manufacturing flexibility.

Along with equipment, Cytiva — a sister company to Pall LS — provided NIBRT access to expertise, which helped facilitate their move to single use. Meanwhile, Cytiva used NIBRT’s labs in Dublin for demonstrations with its customers. The high levels of trust and candid feedback between the two organizations over the years meant that when advanced therapies started gaining traction, the two were already co-developing training courses to support the industry.

This work together laid the foundations such that in early 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, the immediate thought was to collaborate on a viral vector training course for NIBRT’s online academy. The lesson for me here is that if you want to bring about new innovative ideas from a collaboration, you do not necessarily need all the structured elements in place initially, but building trust is essential.        

NIBRT’s impact has grown exponentially, and their work is more critical now than ever as the global industry faces a skills gap and talent shortage. In 2021 alone, NIBRT delivered 39,000 training days. In addition, the center has cemented Ireland as a hub for the biotech industry, supporting the training of staff in many of the new facilities established during a high period of investment during the 2010s. NIBRT’s curriculum is licensed to other learning centers such as those in the U.S., Canada, Australia, China and Korea.

These two examples of collaboration between public and private organizations show that when you have trust, mutual respect, and an open-mindedness, you can overcome challenges together as well as create something new. These collaborations have been somewhat like forging a new cycle path together. The hope is that this may ultimately allow all of us to get to the race finish line — our goals — a lot quicker.

About the Author

Eilidh Bedford | Chief Technology Officer, Pall Life Sciences