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Synergies of science and industry

Singapore, The Netherlands and Switzerland are other countries that have also succeeded in creating synergy between science and industrial needs

‘The culture of Ireland is amenable to team success rather than individual glory’

‘The culture of Ireland is amenable to team success rather than individual glory’


What colour is science? While the answer to this question varies from country to country, the teamwork and collaborative spirit underpinning the partnerships between Irish academic and research institutes and over half of all multinational companies with a presence here, means science is most certainly green in Ireland. So much so we now have world-leading research centres producing IP at an alarming rate. The best example of all can be found in a small university, less than 50 years old, located in Limerick.

For a long time, it was believed ties between industry and academia should never be too close. The risk posed by commercial conflicts of interest to the integrity of pure scientific research were considered too great by many.

While sceptics still exist, and have valid causes for concern, a new culture focused on everyday problem-solving appears to dominate scientific inquiry in the 21st century. While there will always be a need for fundamental research, the move towards real scientific should be seen overall as a positive.

Over 50 per cent of MNCs in the Life Science sector are collaborating with academia in a variety of ways. This seemingly large proportion is believed to be in part due to a sense of camaraderie among Irish people which leads players from all sectors of society together to work in teams at the expense of their own individual glory.

University of Limerick (UL) – The Jewel In the Collaborative Crown

A century from now, we will look back with wonder and awe at how a small third-level institute, founded in 1972, is now one of the world’s best examples of “how to get the balance right” between modern academic research practice and industrial collaborative needs.

“UL’s investment in people, equipment and buildings – enabled by private and public funds – has been remarkable,” states Mike Zaworotko, Bernal Chair of Crystal Engineering and SFI Research Professor at the Department of Chemical Sciences, UL. Prof Zaworotko will also be delivering a lecture at the International Biopharma Ambition Conference 2018 in Dublin.

“In those areas where we have invested, such as pharmaceutical science/engineering and materials science/engineering, we are now second-to-none,” he states. “The immediate effects are positive but it is the long-term impacts in 10-20 years, especially the attraction of a new generation of researchers (our most important products!), that are likely to be of more significance.”

Synthesis and Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre (SSPC)

It may be a tongue-twister of a title but the SSPC at UL never claimed expertise in the field of writing. Its team, however, does know a lot about creating intellectual property and transferring it in a manner that enables companies to make the investments necessary to develop discoveries made at UL labs into new technologies and products. “The main objective of such collaboration is to work together to solve economic and social challenges as a collective to produce, transfer and apply knowledge.”

From day one, UL has been ahead of the pack in terms of understanding the importance of invention disclosures, patents filed, IP commercialisation agreements signed, publications and spin out companies, to the continued success of any educational institute. When other centres of academic research were still literally giving it away, UL were ahead of the pack in appreciating the value academic research had in the commercial world.

“It would be an understatement to say that national IP policy is simply enabling academia and industry to work together,” says Zaworotko. State policy is actively empowering collaboration. “The UL tech transfer team is knowledgeable, proactive and flexible,” he adds. “I have had several positive experiences already and industrial partners are always pleased to see just how open we are to the idea of partnerships.”

That’s why the approach to Intellectual Property management in the SSPC, set up in 2013, has been built upon UL’s existing success in developing intellectual property agreements that benefit both industry and academia.

Granted research output is, more often than not, categorised in the “pre-competitive” space where the currency of the research is “know-how”. There is still along way to go before any research can be taken out of the lab and put into the commercial space but the SSPC is as focused on making sure their research be realised and that the academic participants to the projects don’t fail to miss their opportunity to “capture inventive practices/patentable outputs within SSPC research activities”.

The ‘Wearing the Green’ Lab Coat

Successful collaboration – be it in sports, arts or science – is all about teamwork. But not every country knows how to play ball. Originally from Poland, Prof Mike Zawarotko has a unique perspective on the Irish ability to work together.

“Well first of all, I see Ireland as being at the forefront with respect to ‘Pasteur’s Quadrant’ research. That is, fundamental science aimed at solving everyday problems,” he says.

“There are two major reasons for this. The impact of bodies like SFI, Enterprise Ireland and the IDA have lead to a ‘Centre effect’ through major investment in infrastructure and research partnerships between academic and industrial researchers.”

Zawarotko’s second observation relates to what he refers to as the “Wearing of the green”. “The culture of Ireland is amenable to team success rather than individual glory,” he says. “This is not normally the case in most countries, especially larger countries, where the system tends to be geared more towards individual achievements. Singapore, The Netherlands and Switzerland come to mind as other countries that have also succeeded in creating synergy between excellent science and industrial needs.”