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Putting academia and industry face to face

Getting together with cake: DSTT collaborators from academia and industry (Copyright of DC Thomson& Co. Ltd. Courtesy of The Courier)

Getting together with cake: DSTT collaborators from academia and industry (Copyright of DC Thomson& Co. Ltd. Courtesy of The Courier)

Working with industry; the last step in the translational journey or the first step in discovering something new? For scientists in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit (MRC PPU) at the University of Dundee it’s both. Assistant director Dr Rob Ford gives the inside track on PPU’s award-winning industry collaboration.

Scientists at MRC PPU work hard to find and test new disease processes that can be targeted by drugs. Their aim is two-fold; to help pharmaceutical companies develop drugs to match the targets they discover, and to develop better treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, high blood pressure and immune system disorders.

Last month PPU played host to the 50th meeting of the Division of Signal Transduction Therapy (DSTT). DSTT is a unique collaboration between scientists in the MRC unit, the University of Dundee’s College of Life Sciences and six of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies; AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Merck Serono and Pfizer.

The partnership helps us make the most of MRC PPU scientists’ collective skill in fundamental, laboratory-based research. They unpick the intricacy of common human diseases by studying the cellular processes called phosphorylation and ubiquitylation, and what happens when these go wrong.

Since the DSTT collaboration began in 1998, we’ve held several three-day meetings in Dundee each year. A crucial part is an entire day spent presenting PPU’s latest research data. This is followed by a series of one-to-one meetings with research groups at the companies’ request. It is these meetings that prove extremely valuable in disseminating our latest results and in assisting companies with their development programmes.

I’m often asked how the DSTT works, how we benefit from it and vice versa. For us, it’s not just about money.

The financial support received from the companies does enhance the core funding the unit receives from the MRC, but beyond this, our research has benefited from early access to proprietary compounds and technologies developed by the companies.

Interaction with the companies also leads to early exploitation of our research findings. Staff and students are provided with a unique insight into the innovative research that is taking place within pharmaceutical companies and gives them an awareness of potential careers in industry. This is particularly important because one of our main priorities is to train tomorrow’s researchers and ensure that the future workforce has the skills that the UK economy will be dependent on.

How do companies benefit from the DSTT? They gain access to unpublished research data and drafts of papers; and the proteins, DNAs, antibodies and transgenic mice that the participating research teams generate. They receive advice, often on a daily basis. Companies can also embed scientists in participating Dundee labs.

The success of the collaboration has in no small part been due to a combination of the excellent outcomes of the research and the great management of confidentiality. The collaboration has consistently delivered useful information to the participating companies. In the long-term our hope is that it will deliver benefits to patients too.

Dr Rob Ford

The DSTT was established in 1998. It is widely regarded as a model for how academia should interact with industry, and won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education in 2006.

Read our profile of Sir Philip Cohen, former Director of MRC PPU, founder of the DSTT and one of the winners of the MRC Millennium Medal 2013.

 

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