Text: Benoît Dubuis, Director of the Campus Biotech site and Chairman of BioAlps
Photo: DR

We need an ecosystem that brings together industry and academia.

I’m often struck by the opportunities that result from relations between industry and top specialised schools. But I find amazing the lack of understanding about how essential this interaction is. Even more puzzling is that people think these relations carry on without any checks or regulations. Industry is conveyed as a predator and the schools as the victims.

More:, the platform for life sciences in Western Switzerland

There is no doubt that new therapeutic options need to be developed. Nor is there any doubt that these options require research. But who is exploring them? In a well-documented article on the origin of 252 drugs, featured in the journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, we learn that in Europe, 75% of drugs come from research led by pharmaceutical companies, and the rest are the work of academic research institutes and biotech companies. What is even more important is to understand the dynamics of R&D, which draws on these two worlds and therefore on complementary fields, expertise and especially experience.

Swiss institutions, pioneers in developing close ties between industry and academia, have successfully established a relationship based on trust and mutual respect for the respective role of each partner. Experience and professionalism on the part of top academic institutions and their industrial partners have helped bring together these two worlds. Just ten years ago, these organisations had little contact with each other and in some countries, they still struggle to understand how they are complementary.

In Switzerland, we have achieved this by respecting the role of academia and industrial constraints. It is natural for experts to review the validity of these partnerships and the terms of their agreements.

What leaves me more circumspect is that when industry and academia come together, their relationship is insidiously and repeatedly suspected of conflicts of
interest, of instrumentalising research or negating academic freedom or is accused of lacking transparency. Let’s take that last argument. Are we ready to risk taking information on innovation – that very element that drives the development and success of our companies – out of its context and make it public, presented in part (and perhaps in partial truths) to an audience unaccustomed
to dealing with these considerations? Isn’t forcing the publication of this sensitive industrial information in the name of “transparency” either denying the trust placed in institutions and organisations in charge of these projects or showing poor knowledge of the competition between regions, nations and companies?

In the debate surrounding this type of collaboration, let’s remember that Switzerland has patiently but effectively built a special relationship (because it respects the interests of each party involved) between our industries, small businesses, start-ups and research and development institutes. This new innovation model, in which each partner gains, is essential for tackling the challenges that we face and for bringing patients and society innovative technological solutions. ⁄