Blog by Professor Darragh Murnane, Director of the Hertfordshire Science Partnership at the University of Hertfordshire. This article first appeared on PharmaTimes Online.

It’s an exciting time to be working in the industry; with this comes new opportunities to collaborate and drive innovation.

It’s an exciting time to be working within the life sciences sector. The UK government has recently acknowledged the role we play in driving the UK’s economy with the Sector Deal for Life Sciences in the recent Industrial Strategy; with this comes new opportunities to collaborate and drive innovation in the UK like never before.

The deal brings together the government with universities, charities and more than 25 businesses to make a joint commitment to invest in all parts of the United Kingdom. Helping business to tap into the resources and expertise in universities is a no-brainer; our universities and research institutes rank among the best in the world and they nurture and attract some of the most inventive people on earth.

This drive for collaboration couldn’t come at a better time; pharmaceutical companies have seen lower levels of productivity in recent years, having become reliant on drugs developed decades ago. Open collaboration with start-ups and universities could help create new medicines and help UK plc to meet its commitment to lift R&D funding.

“Open collaboration with start-ups and universities could help create new medicines and help UK plc to meet its commitment to lift R&D funding.”

The Hertfordshire Science Partnership (HSP), funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, is a perfect example of a pioneering collaboration. It provides academic expertise to innovative local businesses looking to research and develop new technologies, and to translate their discoveries into high-value products and services.

Partnerships between universities and businesses are not a new thing. Big companies have been tapping into universities’ R&D capacity for some time, but the University of Hertfordshire is helping small businesses to access funding – and scientists – to undertake fundamental research they need to develop new products.

Many smaller pharmaceutical companies struggle to access funding and become frustrated in their ambitions to develop innovative ideas and technologies. By hiring the University’s facilities and using its expertise to design research studies, local small and medium-sized enterprises can access the same research and innovation activities that are often only available to large organisations.

The benefits to the pharmaceutical industry aren’t just increased productivity and R&D capacity; collaborative partnerships with universities are helping to span the gap between academic and industrial research with PhD researchers who understand what industry needs and have developed the skills to become an industry research scientist before entering into the workforce. The Partnership is expected to facilitate 28 collaborative PhD projects by 2023.

These collaborative PhDs, also known as Hertfordshire Knowledge Exchange Partnerships (HKEPs), are central to the HSP. Through HKEPs, companies benefit from a four-year PhD researcher, who undertakes a collaborative research project supported by a University of Hertfordshire academic supervisor and company scientists. One such HKEP project is researching new ways of administering drugs to older patients who have difficulty swallowing for Fluid Pharma Ltd – a start-up company being incubated at the University’s state-of-the-art Life Sciences Building.

The collaborative PhDs also help to build growth and infrastructure in the region; ideally these scientists will continue to work in the UK life sciences industries and the HSP is starting to attract companies to locate in Hertfordshire because they have access to this talent, and opportunities to train scientists locally. The HSP offers tremendous opportunities to equip the region’s industries to address the research challenges of the future.

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Published: 5 September 2018