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ABPI calls for greater academic partnership in UK drug development

Shift in R&D model would have benefits in ‘challenging climate’ says trade body

The UK's Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has called for greater collaboration between the pharma industry and academia to ensure the country remains a leader in drug development and science training.

In its report, Enriching research, training scientists, which compiles the results of a survey of partnership working between pharma and universities, the industry trade body says that evolving the R&D process to a more mutual system would have benefits in a 'more challenging climate'.

Such challenges include increases in the cost of drug development, as well as a concurrent decrease in the number of new medicines being approved.

The ABPI report said: "A new drug development model, driven by partnerships between large and small companies, and emphasising the two-way knowledge exchange between industry and academia, shows the potential for the continuing enrichment of research in universities."

Such a model is best suited to pre-competitive or non-competitive research, according to the ABPI, with the organisation identifying such areas as predictive toxicology, drug target identification, and the identification of novel biomarkers.

This research is already being carried out in partnerships between pharma, academia, research councils and charities. One example comes from the University of Dundee, which is working with the Medical Research Council (MRC) and five pharma companies to create a division to research signal transduction therapy.

Sarah Jones, the ABPI's education and skills manager, said: “With ever-increasing cost pressures and the greatest ever patent cliff this is a difficult time for our industry, and these programmes represent major investments by pharmaceutical companies and are often worth millions of pounds.”

Undergraduate industrial placements in pharma

The ABPI also highlighted the dramatic drop in undergraduate industrial placements in pharma, with numbers falling from 530 in 2007 to 268 in 2011.

This fall in placements is a concern, said the ABPI, because they offer valuable training for a research career in both industry and academia, with students also appreciating the opportunity to experience research in an actual industrial laboratory.

Universities with the highest levels of industrial placements during 2011 were Bath with 26, followed by Manchester and Sheffield, both of which had 19. This contrasted with Oxford, Cambridge and Dundee, all of which had none.

Oxford and Cambridge both fared better in terms of the number of pharma-supported PhDs and post-doctorates, each appearing within the top four universities when the number of PhDs, post-doctorates and industrial placements at each institution was combined.

Manchester was rated the top university in terms of industry collaboration, however, with almost 120 PhDs, post-doctorates and industrial placements. Imperial College London came second, with just over 90.

"Postgraduate training continues to be strongly supported by pharmaceutical companies," said the ABPI's report, with more students being funded for four years rather than three.

"There is a core group of research-intensive universities that understand the benefit and value of training the future researchers for the pharmaceutical industry."

18th April 2012


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