Report from Europe

Public-private R&D partnerships are on the rise across Europe, but national goals and academia-industry competition could prevent their success at the European level.
Oct 02, 2010
Volume 34, Issue 10

Europeans are increasingly viewing collaboration on drug research and development between the public and private sectors as the most effective way to grow their pharmaceutical sector and strengthen their competitive role, particularly against low-cost Asian drug manufacturers. At the national and European Union levels, research and development (R&D) partnerships are being formed between government agencies, academia, and industry to improve the development of new drugs and the processes for making them.

"There is a bottleneck [in biopharmaceuticals, for example] when it comes to processing large and complex molecules on a scale to meet the potential demand," explains Celia Caulcott, director of innovation and skills at the United Kingdom Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). "This is an area where there is clear value in bringing together public and private organizations to rapidly improve products, technologies, and processes."

If collaboration is to work effectively, however, a balance needs to be found between what are often the conflicting interests of universities and research institutes and pharmaceutical companies over issues such as funding and intellectual property (IP) rights. There is also concern among some sections of the research community and in industry that the growing number of projects across the EU will overlap with an already existing plethora of national (i.e., within some EU countries) partnership schemes.

To date, most of the new initiatives seeking to take advantage of public–private partnerships benefits (e.g., from the pooling of knowledge through collaboration) are already being driven by individual European countries. In the UK, for example, the Bioprocessing Research Industry Club (BRIC), a public–private partnership, has organized 25 biopharmaceutical research projects, 40% of which are already reporting success on the development of new processes, technologies, and products.

In Ireland, whose pharmaceutical sector accounts for more than 50% of its exports, the government is leading a drive to bring government agencies, industry, and academia together to form new R&D partnerships. The goal is to make the country a global center for advanced production techniques by linking research directly to manufacturing.

"Partnerships are the way forward for process improvements and development," says Matt Moran, director of Pharmachemical Ireland, an association representing pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturers. "Our members can not only learn a lot from each other and academia but also from other industries. We have to reduce costs and increase efficiency in order to compete against Indian and Chinese producers. There is no alternative to development collaborations as a means of doing this," he says.

Ireland's Limerick University is heading a research project on solid-state particles in medicines that involves the country's leading universities and global pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline (London), Roche (Basel), Pfizer (New York), and Eli Lilly (Indianapolis). The scheme brings together chemists and other experts in pharmaceutical technology and chemical and mechanical engineering to tackle the problem of the lack of reproducibility of solid-state dosage forms because of inadequate crystallization, phase transformations, and other phenomena.

lorem ipsum