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“Why University-Industry Collaborations in Biotechnology Matter”

Farmer Gene

Last week, GMO Answers published a piece on the GMO Answers Forbes blog by Anthony M. Boccanfuso, president of the University Industry Demonstration Partnership. The blog was is titled “Why University-Industry Collaborations in Biotechnology Matter” and provides an overview of university-industry collaborations and how they are creating innovation.

“Collaboration encourages the transfer of university research findings into innovative products that can benefit society and stimulate economic growth.” – Boccanfuso

Read here in its entirety Mr. Boccanfuso’s blog Why University-Industry Collaborations in Biotechnology Matter:

Where do GM crops and other agricultural innovations come from? If you answered with the name of an agricultural products company, you are only partially correct. Companies do commercialize the final product, but the inception, invention and development of a commercial product is done on a continuum that starts with years of basic research—often in a university laboratory—and ends with the commercialization of the product. This cooperative process yields benefits for universities and industry, farmers, and, ultimately, for society.

Universities derive both financial and nonfinancial benefits from collaborating with industry. For research universities, industry-sponsored research can be a strategic component of their overall research funding and these projects support faculty, postdocs, and students and help advance key areas of research. In addition, industry-sponsored research is often leveraged to obtain additional funding.

University-industry collaboration is recognized as a way to encourage the transfer of university research findings into innovative products that will benefit society and stimulate economic growth. In the case of GM crop research funding, regulatory agencies that review studies required for approvals encourage research collaborations that leverage university and industry strengths and provide jointly developed scientific data examining GM crop safety.

Strong federal government support of university-industry collaboration in food and agriculture research is long-standing and recently reinforced with the creation of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) in the 2014 Farm Bill. FFAR is mandated to identify and approve projects that involve collaboration with industry. The expected result, as stated by FFAR, is an increase in scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population.

The advantages of university-industry collaboration go much deeper than the potential monetary benefits. Universities need to attract highly talented faculty, and the availability of research dollars from industry can help them to do so. Universities also need to attract the brightest students, and having an established pipeline for hiring by partner industries will make the university more attractive to these future employees. These university graduates add great value to the companies as they apply their knowledge to the creation of innovative products for their employers.

Additionally, the current trend in certain sectors is to complement internal research and development spending with university-industry partnerships. One trend over the last decade has been to build research parks on college campuses to foster collaboration between companies and the university scientists. Startup companies collaborate with universities, often receiving support that includes investment-grade funding and access to expertise beyond their current employee pool.

Ultimately, the partnerships between universities and industry benefit consumers and society. The benefits of GM crops are well documented, such as in a 2014 brief from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). This briefing describes ways in which GM crops have benefitted farmers and society around the world. For example, GM cotton has made a significant contribution to the income of 16.5 million small farmers in 2014 in developing countries. GM crops can also increase the amount of micronutrients in the food, which could be a valuable source of critical nutrients for people around the globe.

GM crops also benefit consumers and society by helping to reduce greenhouse gases resulting from less fuel use and additional soil carbon storage from reduced tillage. Additionally, droughts, floods and temperature changes are predicted to become more prevalent, creating the need for new breeds of crops. GM crop tools and techniques can be used to speed up the breeding process.

The University-Industry Demonstration Partnership (UIDP) provides its members with tools for enhancing the success of university-industry collaborations, and there have been many successful collaborations among our members. For example, DuPont Pioneer, along with the African Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) consortium of African and American scientists and universities, has worked together to improve the amount and stability of beta-carotene and the absorption of iron and zinc. They have also achieved beta-carotene levels that have the potential to deliver 100 percent of the daily vitamin A and 80 percent of iron and zinc requirements in children under the age of three. And, the ABS consortium has improved the stability of beta-carotene during storage by over 100 percent from four weeks to 10 weeks. At the same time, the ABS initiative promotes capacity building, industry and regulatory affairs and sustainable seed system development.

Many academic investigators find it valuable to work with industry to advance their research agenda and ensure relevance of their scholarly pursuits; industry researchers benefit from the breadth of research directions pursued in academia. When the needs of both universities and industry are blended, the end product can generate the above-mentioned benefits for science and society. Few, if any, of these benefits could be derived without university-industry partnerships.

UIDP is a project-oriented organization whose members identify issues impacting university-industry relations and opportunities to develop new approaches to working together. Some of companies that fund GMO Answers through the Council for Biotechnology Information are also members of UIDP. I consulted with some of our members while writing this piece.

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