IntroductionExploring the path from invention into innovation.
The benefits of partnership between academic research departments and the R&D divisions of private companies was one of the recurring themes of the ‘Innovations’ workshop organised by Egenis and the University’s Research and Knowledge Transfer department.
‘Innovation: Lost – or found – in translation?’ brought successful innovators and business people together with participants from the Business School and the Innovations Centre, among others, to discuss the challenges of turning research in the biotechnology sector into successful products.
“It was a very stimulating day with excellent speakers and a very high standard of debate,” said Professor Steve Hughes, co-director of Egenis and the instigator of the workshop.
Prof Hughes introduced the day by suggesting that there are three types of change: institutional (driven by, for example, trade agreements or regulatory provisions); inexorable (responding to population growth or climate change); and opportunistic (prompted by technological invention). Innovation, he said, navigates the space enclosed by these influences to deliver changes in social practice and public goods
Professor Paul Davis, who holds dozens of patents in the field of clinical biotechnology, talked about the path from invention into innovation for the public benefit. He discussed the difficulties of finding start-up funding, and the way in which in regulation creates relatively greater barriers for small companies. Prof Davis said it is important for an innovation-based business to spread its funding options across a range of public/private bodies, and suggested that a partnership with a university lent a kind of quality assurance to a product. He stressed that although patenting is an expensive business, intellectual property rights are vital.
Camilio Colaco is a founder of and Chief Scientific Officer for ImmBio, a company developing the next generation of anti-infective vaccines. He agreed with Prof Davis that the network of academic and business partnerships is important, and also emphasised that IP needs to be secure in order to attract investment.
Prof Hughes spoke about his work with the non-profit biotech research organisation Cambia. He mentioned that one problem with patents is that you don’t always know what patents are already in existence, so Cambia developed the Boolean search to look for patents which may overlap with the one for which an innovator plans to apply. He also discussed the shifting views on IP and exclusion, which are leading many to move more towards the principles of the Open Source software movement and open innovation in bioscience.
Professor Roderick Hunt, Visiting Professor in Biological Sciences at the University of Exeter, spoke about his work as Company Secretary of the Annals of Botany, another non-profit organisation. He went through the process leading to publication in the Annals, discussing the publication’s stringent criteria. The work needs to be substantial, to include a new discovery, and must be of general interest (that is, it should be capable of wide application rather than being of interest only to a handful of academics). He described the innovative process of launching a new online partner journal for the Annals and the development of a new business model for open access publishing which is designed to secure rapid and unencumbered dissemination of knowledge while maintaining the standards of peer review.
The workshop ended with a talk from Professor Geraldine Schofield, a microbiologist who has served on a number of national advisory boards, including the Health and Safety Commission and the Food Standards Agency. She spoke about regulation, suggesting that the ‘legislative cocktail’ of national and pan-European law, policy and intra-government practice can be a real block on innovation, while regulation brought in in the wake of a disaster tends to be very heavy-handed. Large companies sometimes seek to maintain regulatory barriers because they work to help them maintain their market position. But although prescriptiveness and the precautionary principle can slow down innovation, ‘regulatory pull’, for example designing products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, can work to stimulate innovation.