Today was my first major meeting with a major industrial partner for my research aims. The lead-up was stressful and I am glad it is over. I am also glad that it went very well but I am one tired puppy! The entire process was an interesting and exciting experience. Unlike your normal academic collaboration talk this one had a long lead-up with many potential sticking points along the way.
It started like this: an old friend who and I had a casual talk about a potential drug target at a meeting some time ago. She went back and did some background work (I.P. space and the like) on the potential target and we gathered some preliminary data on the idea. Eventually we decided that this looked good to all parties and then the negotiation over the initial terms began. This was somewhat surprising to me because it wasn’t really clear to me that there were any terms to negotiate. I would have been wrong.
The first document to come my way was a two-way confidentiality agreement draft (CDA). The CDA was a somewhat detailed legal document covering the basic topics we would discuss including some interesting things that I would not have expected on their end and some add ins on my end to cover the areas that I thought would be of interest to them. Of course, all of this was in some legalese and it had to be reviewed by our I.P. and tech transfer offices. Once all the lawyers could agree on the topics we set up the dates for our little meeting.
That little meeting was today and the meeting was very similar to any other academic get together. I gave a talk on the relevant topics covering my ideas for how we could proceed and how I could add value to their pipeline (largely through target identification). We then proceeded into a round table type discussion where we shared a number of ideas and looked for common ground on how both parties could benefit from the interactions and collaborations that would come. Some people were coming and going from the conversation (it lasted for several hours) and anytime a new person would arrive they were told that we were under a two-way CDA and a look of relief would come over their faces. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for them to operate in a meeting like this if they are not allowed to share ideas freely. I have to admit that I didn’t quite grasp the importance of the CDA until these moments. I was certainly glad that we took the time to do this and to cover a broad range of topics.
The interaction was another interesting aspect of this meeting. While it was similar to your normal academic meeting (as noted above) there were some clear differences. One was the drugability topic. I had some good guidance coming in so I knew to expect this but not quite to the extent that it ended up being a topic of conversation. Us academic pharmacologists aren’t too used to being overly concerned about PK and PD but this was clearly a major issue on their minds. And for good reason, the major reason that a lead compound has to modified or drops out completely is because it is a poor drug in PK and/or PD aspects. It became very clear to me very rapidly that they would have a great deal to offer in these respects on the project, from my perspective, in particular, in getting better tool compounds developed to really go after target validation. This may sound like a trivial thing but it is actually absolutely essential. Some of the compounds we have been trying to work with are a real pain in terms of just getting them into solution and it was obvious that they were prepared to get past this little hurdle quite quickly. Another kind of eureka moment came when I mentioned that it would be a real boon to my program if I could just use this or that published compound (but not commercially available) in my studies. I was surprised to learn that they could generally just take a structure and scale up the compound to get it to me in a very short turn around time. Color me impressed, and excited.
The major point of the whole meeting was to come to agreement over a variety of targets and a variety of techniques to start to identify new targets. We actually came to agreement over this quite easily and it was obvious that the industry team was very well versed in where I was hoping this would lead and apparently they had come to many of the same conclusions in the time before our get together. Its looking like this little meeting is going to lead to some big opportunities for my little lab in the near future and hopefully is going to pay off for them as well. I can’t say that I was expecting a fee for service type arrangement but the thought did cross my mind that that would ultimately be what they would want. Quite clearly, that was not the case, which brings me to my final point. In the end it all boils down to the same end-points: 1) basic science discoveries drive translation to the clinic on every level and 2) scientists, regardless of their overall interests and goals, are always interested in tackling new and interesting problems. Hopefully my first independent foray into industry collaboration will work out for all of us because it was clear that there is much excitement for our shared interests by both parties.