Helping us all work together

Posted on February 25, 2011 by

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On Wednesday the government launched some new guidance to help universities, the NHS, charities and industry work together faster and better – see the DH press release here. Key to the government’s growth strategy is making it more attractive for private investors to fund research alongside public investors in the UK, so making it simpler and easier to do is a crucial step. It’s also interesting for charities who fund a lot of research in partnership with universities, the NHS and industry.

Background

More and more research is done through partnerships – between public sector funders – including medical research charities – and industry in the NHS and universities. There are lots of benefits, harnessing the strength of the NHS – this gigantic health system with huge resources of information and people – and the skills and expertise in UK universities to attract outside investment which will enable us to do more research and ultimately develop more treatments to help people.

But there are lots of tricky issues research like this, done in partnership, throws up. If you’re funding together, how do you divide up the profits i.e. who owns the intellectual property when you discover something. When you’re trying to put together a research study and attract partners to invest with you, you don’t have the money to throw at these problems, and the difficulties in coming to an agreement can be a big disincentive to working together.

What have the government launched?

A model agreement between the pharmaceutical and biomedical industries, universities and the NHS called the model Industry Collaborative Research Agreement – or mICRA for short – with supporting guidance to help draw up agreements based on this – it’s here. This should streamline the process of doing research together by shortening all the negotiating and contracting that needs to go on before  industry, universities and the NHS can start a research study together. And ultimately, by using it, it should establish a standard partnership model across the UK meaning everyone has a much clearer idea about what working in partnership means from the outset, meaning they can invest with increased confidence.

Academic health science centres (Recently five academic health science centres have been established in England – at Imperial College, King’s College, University College London, Manchester and Cambridge – to bring research, teaching and patient care all together in one place with the aim of speeding up the translation of research developments  into benefits for patient – see this discussion the Lords had about them a few months back for more) aim to encourage more university/NHS/industry interaction. So streamlining the process of getting these sort of partnerships off the ground is going to be key to supporting their success.

Why is this interesting for medical research charities?

Charities fund a lot of research in partnership with universities, the NHS and industry. A study conducted by Alzheimer’s Research UK (formerly Alzheimer’s Research Trust) in 2010 found that charitable funding boosts private investment (more here):

A £1 increase in UK government or charity spending on medical research could lead to an increase in private research spending from the pharmaceutical industry of between £2.20 and £5.10.

Developing a clear, standardised way of working together will help charities – who as charities supported by the public are focused on getting the best value for money from their investments in research –  enter these valuable funding partnerships and ensure their money goes as far as it can.

Posted in: Policy