The value of mission-orientated research in biopharma R&D 

Target concept

Patrick Speedie, Co-Founder & Co-CEO of IN-PART, explores why a global approach is needed for the best science to prosper and the lessons industry can take from the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The Covid-19 pandemic unequivocally demonstrated the power of industry-academia collaboration, with the fastest ever development, testing and approval of a life-saving vaccine. We saw colleagues from across the globe working together at speed and scale, sharing access to the latest data, creating new egalitarian models of patent access, and repurposing existing pharmaceuticals. There was a true artistry in the global coordinated effort to protect us from one of the biggest health threats in recent times, demonstrating just how much value a mission-orientated approach to R&D can bring to not just the scientific community, but to humanity as a whole. 

 Traditional approaches to research won’t cut it

The pursuit of scientific knowledge is not merely an academic endeavour, but a necessary pathway to improving the longevity and quality of human lives. There are still a countless number of ruthless diseases threatening our collective future that require similar levels of cross-sector commitment and international collaboration. 

Some of the practicalities and speed bumps to innovation like budget constraints, stringent regulatory requirements and the complex intellectual property landscape are unlikely to disappear. However, the biopharma industry has the opportunity to reflect back on the lessons we learnt from the pandemic and harness the collaborative spirit it inspired by applying a shared-values, mission-orientated mindset to new research partnerships. 

Traditional research methods and drug discovery pathways, although time-proven and highly valuable, often lack a sense of urgency and can fail to put front and centre the most pressing needs of society. This is why the dynamic and purpose-driven framework of mission-orientated research has proven during the pandemic that it holds the most potential in combating our biggest health threats. And the reality is, there remains an abundance of them, from incurable cancers that require more research into early diagnosis and screening, to incredibly rare diseases for which there are currently no treatments. 

Mission-orientated research can bring a much-needed remedy to overcoming these global health challenges as at its heart it fosters collaboration and accelerates goal-driven progress, which in turn, enables tangible and impactful solutions to emerge. Because mission-oriented research begins with a clear understanding of the objective, academic researchers and life science R&D teams can keep their focus and combine their efforts towards yielding a meaningful outcome at a faster pace. 

When bringing together experts from various fields, history has shown it’s easy for tension and arguments to build up. Taking a mission-oriented approach can help to bridge communication challenges as all parties start on the same page, working towards a common goal. A core part of this is in the setting of expectations early on and respecting the balance between breakthrough discoveries and commercial viability. 

 Replicating success beyond the pandemic

Historically (pre 1940s) medical innovation was often achieved through chance. However, as we see every day, modern medicine has both incremental and major improvements, showing that the best innovations and most transformative outcomes can come from extreme pressures. Facing imminent threats, it’s easier to be motivated by common goals than be caught up in differences. The success of the Covid-19 vaccines should be a reminder that professionals from all corners of the world and from many disciplines can work together effectively and efficiently to achieve a common goal. It provides inspiration for how fast biopharma organisations can work together with universities and academia globally to meet tight deadlines and move ground-breaking research from concepts to clinical trials. As we have witnessed, collaboration with academia doesn’t have to be defined by the often-negative stereotypes of slow responses, risk and risk mitigation, laborious contract negotiations or disagreements on IP rights. 

Although crucial, it is, however, challenging to replicate the success of Covid-19 vaccine today now that we’re out of crisis mode. Globally, we’re facing an economic downturn, which unfortunately is leading to financial cuts in R&D expenditure, making resource-stretched biopharma companies more aware than ever of the commercial demands to their research pursuits. 

A laser focus on commercial viability can be at the detriment to mission-orientated research. But ultimately, for medicines to be rolled out worldwide, they need to work with not against the market. While some breakthroughs may not have immediate commercial applications, the intellectual freedom that academia fosters is often the initial driver of innovation and improvement, which life sciences R&D can take that one step further. 

 Global mindset for global health issues

Bridging these gaps in expectations shouldn’t put off experts from diverse scientific disciplines to collaborate and cross-pollinate ideas in the pursuit of addressing global challenges. To increase success, we cannot be confined to geographical borders. 

Such a location-open-mindedness is a fundamental necessity to push the next innovation forward, be it a cure for cancer or Alzheimer’s. Chances are high that specialist academics at a university in another hemisphere has put verified research out there that is ready to be picked up. Looking further afield shouldn’t be seen as an obstacle anymore, particular in light of how industry and academic collaborated online during the pandemic, but rather as an incredible opportunity to tap into an increased breadth of research that can save millions of lives. 

For example, with one in two people expected to develop some form of cancer during their lifetime, mission-driven research and international and interdisciplinary collaboration for cancer treatment trials must be undertaken and cherished for the good of our entire society. With government funding and thousands of non-profit organisations supporting cancer research, the world isn’t short of cancer cure initiatives. However, staying local to find partnerships limits the unique access to countless undisclosed ‘hidden gem’ research opportunities and the right collaborator who is equally mission-driven, and understand the commerciality element in an economically challenging world. 

 Immense value to shape a better tomorrow

In the realm of scientific research, where as a society we are faced with impending climate systems collapse and ageing global populations with increased disease risk incidences, there is a need to be conducting mission-oriented and commercial-facing research to help address our growing global crises. 

The biopharma industry holds a unique position to directly impact human health for good. Driven by a sense of purpose and responsibility, and supported by academia, R&D-driven organisations can advance their knowledge, generate commercially viable products, address societal challenges, and come up with ground-breaking discoveries by embracing a framework of mission-oriented research. Through focused research efforts, scientists have already made remarkable strides in evolving mature small molecular drugs and developing technology to accelerate highly effective large molecule therapies. This includes areas such as stem cell therapy, tissue engineering, and gene editing. If we can move forward together and put differences aside, the success will take care of itself.  

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