Skip to main navigation menu Skip to main content Skip to site footer

Review article: Biomedical intelligence

Vol. 145 No. 0506 (2015)

University – Industry collaborations: models, drivers and cultures

  • Dominic Ehrismann
  • Dhavalkumar Patel
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2015;145:w14086


The way academic institutions and pharmaceutical companies have been approaching collaborations has changed significantly in recent years. A multitude of interaction models were tested and critical factors that drive successful collaborations have been proposed. Based on this experience the current consensus in the pharmaceutical industry is to pursue one of two strategies: an open innovation approach to source discoveries wherever they occur, or investing selectively into scientific partnerships that churn out inventions that can be translated from bench to bedside internally.

While these strategies may be intuitive, to form and build sustainable relationships between academia and large multinational healthcare enterprises is proving challenging. In this article we explore some of the more testing aspects of these collaborations, approaches that various industrial players have taken and provide our own views on the matter.

We found that understanding and respecting each other’s organisational culture and combining the intellectual and technological assets to answer big scientific questions accelerates and improves the quality of every collaboration. Upon discussing the prevailing cooperation models in the university – industry domain, we assert that science-driven collaborations where risks and rewards are shared equally without a commercial agenda in mind are the most impactful.


  1. Herper M. The Truly Staggering Cost Of Inventing New Drugs. Forbes 2012 February 10, 2012.
  2. Munos B. Lessons from 60 years of pharmaceutical innovation. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2009;8:959–68.
  3. IFPMA. The Pharmaceutical Industry and Global Health, Facts and Figures 2012. Geneva: IFPMA; 2012.
  4. Dasgupta P, David PA. Toward a New Economics of Science. Res Policy. 1994;23:487–521.
  5. D’Este P, Perkmann M. Why do academics engage with industry? The entrepreneurial university and individual motivations. J Technol Transfer. 2011;36:316–39.
  6. Owen-Smith J, Powell WW. To patent or not: Faculty decisions and institutional success at technology transfer. J Technol Transfer. 2001;26:99–114.
  7. Etzkowitz H. Research groups as “quasi-firms”: the invention of the entrepreneurial university. Res Policy. 2003;32:109–21.
  8. Lowe RA. Who develops a university invention? The impact of tacit knowledge and licensing policies. J Technol Transfer. 2006;31:415–29.
  9. Bruneel J, D’Este P, Salter A. Investigating the factors that diminish the barriers to university-industry collaboration. Res Policy. 2010;39:858–68.
  10. Chesbrough H. Open Innovation: The new imperative for creating and profiting from technology. Boston: Harvard Business School Press; 2003.
  11. Jones D. Introduction to the Ceedd & externalisation at GSK. 2013.
  12. Botschen F, Thunecke M. The Biotechisation of Pharma. ; 2013.
  13. Fishburn CS. Uprooting CEEDD. SciBX 2013;6:1–2.
  14. Schachter B. Partnering with the professor. Nat Biotechnol. 2012;30:944–52.
  15. Patel AC, Coyle AJ. Building a new biomedical ecosystem: Pfizer’s Centers for Therapeutic Innovation. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2013;94:314–6.
  16. Saitoh M, Pullen N, Brennan P, Cantrell D, Dennis PB, Thomas G. Regulation of an activated S6 kinase 1 variant reveals a novel mammalian target of rapamycin phosphorylation site. J Biol Chem. 2002;277:20104–12.
  17. Ziegler Handschin S. The Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research turns 40! Basel: The Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research 2010.
  18. FMI Report 2011/2012. Basel, Switzerland: Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research; 2012.
  19. Walther C, Lucht S, Giegerich P. Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation provides extensive support for cutting-edge research at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. Mainz 2009.
  20. Mintzberg H. The Structuring of Organisations. Hemel Hempstead/Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall; 1979.
  21. Kaplan K. Industrial endeavours. Nature. 2009;461:554–5.