Having a clear understanding of the differences between how science is done from an academic standpoint with how it is done in the typical Life Science company can significantly ease the path from discovery to market success. To the uninitiated scientist, the commercial team (Sales people, Marketing people, Business Development folks and the Financial Team) has been viewed as ‘the dark side’ and only interested in driving the business and either not understanding or valuing the role of the underlying science. From the business perspective, there is a concern that company scientists are only concerned with making more discoveries and not pushing towards doing the kind of work required to launch a compelling product. Neither view is accurate. Getting a good understanding of the differences can help to align the critical goals of each of these important parts of the life science company and increase the chances for success.
Why the Confusion?
Some of this confusion is caused by the way that scientists are trained in academia. The increasing pressures that academic scientists are facing to fund their research programs as NIH funding continues to become harder to secure only acerbates this. New relationships between commercial life science and biotechnology companies with academia, often facilitated by university technology transfer offices, are providing new sources of research capital. Strategic partnerships, patenting and out-licensing of intellectual property from research conducted in academia are increasingly filling the government sponsored funding gap. Like it or not, the lines between academic and commercial science have already been blurred.
Confusion is created because academic – commercial partnerships do not really combine the science being done in university labs with the commercialization efforts being done at the outside company. This separation allows traditional roles and attitudes to remain prevalent. In a Life Science company, the priorities of the science, the way that it is conducted, how it is validated and decisions on what projects will be worked on and which ones will be discontinued must be driven by commercial priorities. However, it is equally crucial that the commercial team allows enough freedom to R&D to insure the quality of the experimental and feasibility work and that there is some room for discovery (you never know what killer application you will find or valuable intellectual property your R&D team will develop).
Getting the R&D and Commercial Teams on the Same Side
The following table lists some of the key differences between academic and commercial science.
|Research Scope||The scope is wide. New research findings drive the efforts in often unpredictable ways. This process is inherently unpredictable and random.||The scope of the experimental program is very focused. Only work that progresses the science from feasibility to finished product is encouraged.|
|Goals||Improve understanding of scientific or technical discipline||Improve robustness of product and provide initial data to support applications that will support commercialization|
|Scientific Validation||Publications, Presentations, Patents||Product Sales, Patents (as part of a strategic intellectual property estate)|
|Funding Sources||Grants, Foundation Sponsorships, consulting fees, licensing fees and royalties||Investments, Sales Revenue, licensing fees and royalties|
There is no ‘dark side’ in a successful life science company, just a healthy relationship between the scientific and commercial teams. In both academic and commercial cases, the goal is to produce new technology and science. The only difference is in the path that each of these endeavors use to achieve this.