August 2010

Industry-Academia Partnerships


A new agreement between the University of California, San Francisco and Genentech Inc. may be a turning point in how industry and academia conduct their business. (Titled "Partners in Crime: UCSF-Genentech partnership offers a brave new world of industry-academia interactions" in print version.)


UCSF researchers Michelle Arkin and Jim Wells will provide their expertise on small molecule screening and medicinal chemistry in a new partnership with Genentech.

This past January, the University of California, San Francisco and Genentech Inc. reached an agreement on a joint drug development program for neurodegenerative disorders. On the face of it, the deal, potential worth $13 million plus future royalties, doesn’t seem too splashy. After all, business ventures between industry and academia are a common occurrence, and Genentech and UCSF have had a master agreement for scientific exchange in place since 2005.

However, this modest proposal may be a turning point in how industry and academia conduct their business.

“What makes this deal unusual is that it is a true partnership where scientists at UCSF and Genentech are in continual communication and make joint project decisions,” notes American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology member James Wells, professor and chairman of the department of pharmaceutical chemistry at UCSF and director of their Small Molecule Discovery Center, as well as the recipient of the 2010 ASBMB-Merck Award.

Wells explains that pharmaceutical companies typically have followed one of two classic paths when working with universities. The first involves a company recognizing an asset and licensing it from a university; the school benefits from licensing fees, but, at the same time, the company drives the product forward and communication between the parties, outside of some occasional consulting, is minimal. The second path occurs when a university or lab has a particular skill or technology which a company finds useful, so, they pay a straight fee for the service.

In this new UCSF-Genentech agreement, scientists from both sides will work directly with each other on project teams; and, while the research will focus primarily on drug development, there also will be a strong push to answer intellectual questions and to publish papers in top journals.

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