There is a Difference Between Applied Research Resulting in a Publication and Research Attractive to the Industry, says Ondřej Slabý

Ondřej Slabý works at the CEITEC MU at the Department of Biology of the Faculty of Medicine, MU. He is one of the few Czech scientists who specialize in developing innovative cancer diagnostics. Recently, Masaryk University has signed a licensing agreement with Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute and the Biovendor company for a diagnostic kit that detects colorectal cancer; This kit developed by Slabý’s team thus might be available to physicians in two years. What were the key elements of the licensing procedure? According to Mr Slabý, it was a shared interest in the right place, and at the right time.

30 Jun 2020 Ondřej Franek

How often do academic research results find a practical application?
Not very often. There is a difference between applied research resulting in a publication and applied research that is attractive to an industrial partner which allows its subsequent commercialization. The things industrial partners are looking for is often not what academic research results in. When we discuss this with industry representatives who are experienced in patenting academic research, for instance, the BioVendor company, we find out that in their verification studies they identify just about one in ten academic research results as suitable for licensing. However, this does not mean our research is bad, it just does not fulfil the expectations of the industrial partners. This basically tells us that academic research results are not complete enough which represents perhaps the greatest obstacle to collaboration. If we took the verification of results one step further at the university, we would find out that but a small fraction of our research has any application potential. This, of course, need not diminish the importance of research from the perspective of increasing our knowledge.

How could this obstacle be removed?
By sharing experience and learning from each other – not through artificially created seminars but rather through direct interaction between both partners – only such interaction can help us get a better idea of each other’s expectations. One of the ways to do so could be the RNADIAGON project (H2020 RISE, http://www.rnadiagon.eu/) that involves partner institutions from five countries including the USA. It aims to connect academicians with industrial partners by means of internships during which both sides attune their ideas of cooperation.

What do you think was the key to successful cooperation with BioVendor?
The key to this cooperation was our shared interest that met in the right place at the right time. The BioVendor company decided to develop a technology for the detection of biomarkers based on microRNA. They were looking for ways to implement this technology and we just discovered new diagnostic microRNAs for detecting colorectal cancer. Our cooperation occurred quite naturally as a response to our partner’s need to find an application for their licensed technology.

What was the cooperation with BioVendor like from a scientist’s point of view?
From the very beginning, the industrial partner had a very clear idea of everything that has to be done before the licensing itself. Because this is their pilot project in the field of microRNA diagnostics, the result of this cooperation is very important to them. On account of BioVendor requesting the validation studies to be carried out in their laboratories, a contract was first drafted to define the scope of the collaboration so that both parties would feel comfortable about it. The role of the clinical partner that provided the biological samples and processed some clinical data required to verify the diagnostic value of the biomarkers was taken on by the Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute. Without this partnership, this research would not have been possible. Thanks to the legislative support provided by Masaryk University, the research team did not have to deal with the legal aspects of the cooperation and we were able to focus on the research itself. The cooperation is now in the licensing agreement phase which I consider to be another step to advance this project even further.

What could help scientists to support commercialization of their results?
When you have a look at scientific literature alone, you’ll find thousands of publications offering a promise of something that could be used in practice; however, the actual application potential is close to zero. If scientists have the ambition to put their results into practice, they shouldn’t consider a publication to be the end result of their research and they shouldn’t publish their findings before they are legally protected. Then they only need to find a suitable partner. There is a number of efforts to systematically locate partners based on the various types of research. However, I think that if scientists do research with an application component, they should be well aware of their potential industrial partners. Besides collaborating closely with the future user of their innovation, they should map out the industry relevant to their research and approach any potential partners. On the other hand, in case scientists achieve promising results, it is highly probable that the industry will contact them on their own.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to?
One of the products we’re currently working on with the Generi Biotech Company, that has entered clinical trials already, is the tissue microRNA diagnostics to predict the treatment response to the anti-EGFR monoclonal antibody therapy used against the EGFR receptor in metastatic colorectal cancer. The test is now being verified by a 3-year prospective multicentric study RASMIR (EudraCT Number: 2018-001210-15) coordinated by the Masaryk Memorial Cancer Institute. The patients are stratified into groups based on the levels of this experimental biomarker, according to which treatment is administered within this study, and, if it turns out it is beneficial to the patients’ survival, it will be one of the necessary clinical proofs that working with this biomarker makes sense and it would have a great chance of success.


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