This insight was first published as part of NCUB’s State of the Relationship 2021 Report. Read the report in full here.

Business partnerships have been a crucial part of Oxford University’s life sciences research and innovation for many years. We recognise the important role they play in exchanging knowledge and harnessing expertise to efficacy and ultimately expedite solutions to world health challenges.

Developing a vaccine for Covid-19 was a huge challenge of global significance to which the University proved itself particularly well-placed to respond. Thanks to years of research, Oxford’s scientists in the Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group had already developed the vaccine platform, which was then rapidly adapted to protect people against Covid-19. The University also has a great deal of manufacturing expertise and its own Clinical Bio Manufacturing Facility, so were able to produce the initial quantities of vaccine required for such a global test. These elements were attractive to an industrial partner.

The University’s existing partnership with Astra Zeneca was not well established prior to the vaccine development. We knew we needed to partner with a company with the right skills and resources but what really sealed the deal, and fortified our relationship, was our shared values and desire to commit to global distribution at cost in the pandemic and in perpetuity to low-and-middle income countries.

We achieved in 10 months what would normally have taken 10 years by normal R&D standards because there was enormous sense of urgency, and trust, and all the steps had to happen in parallel. Clinical trials were organised, manufacturing was organised, contracts were drafted, and partners were approached. Failure to agree was unthinkable for everyone, the work went on at pace even before the details had been worked out.

Of course the circumstances were extraordinary and such relentless operations cannot be sustained on an ongoing basis. However, strong partnerships and establishing clear, shared goals from the beginning can allow for developing contracts and starting work in parallel, and high levels of trust can move projects along at much greater speed.

Our partnership with Astra Zeneca has shown how agile thinking and action can achieve huge impact. These are principles we aim to foster across all our partnerships such as our pioneering work with Ineos on antimicrobial resistance; developing cutting edge genomic sequencing tools with Oracle; and producing ground breaking diabetes research with Novo Nordisk. Industry partnerships will also be integral to the establishment of Oxford’s new Pandemic Sciences Centre, helping to give it the capacity for rapid decision-making and intervention on a world stage.