Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Government-Academy-Industry-Networking (GAIN): A Paradigm for Indian National Innovation

The foundations of India as a knowledge society lie in our colleges and universities. The society would not be intellectually what it is but for the educational institutions which transform human beings into human resources. Similarly, the foundations of an economic society lie in the industries and businesses. The society would not be economically what it is today but for the industries and businesses that not only utilize the human intellectual capital developed but also generate new knowledge to achieve commercial results. Despite this intrinsic synergy, it is of concern that industry (which for the purpose of this post includes business and administration) and academics (which for the purpose of this post covers all educational institutions) tend to be quite detached from each other.

Amongst all fields of knowledge generation in academia and knowledge application in industry, science and technology emerge as the primary drivers of development, requiring the highest levels of teaching, research, industrial development, investment and commercialization. These two fields are also the fields that require constant experimentation and research to develop new bodies of knowledge that can be commercially utilized anew. Science and technology are thus not only essential for social and economic development but also constitute the twin areas in which both the industry and academia have an enormous stake. Science, technology, industry and academy thus constitute the four essentials of national development and global competitiveness. Needless to say, the greater the collaboration amongst the industry and academics the greater would be the benefit for the nation in terms of the amazing results of science and technology.

Common and uncommon

Whenever two entities have goals that apparently converge but have strategies that diverge, there could be certain basic differences affecting the combined system. In the modern world, academics are considered to be the engine of economic development, in addition to the established role of community development through education. Similarly, industry is expected to be a responsible citizen in addition to the role of efficient wealth maximizer. However, the routes taken by the industry and academics are traditionally, and even now, seem to be different. Academics see their deliverables in terms of people and qualifications while industry sees its deliverables in terms of products and services. The factor of people, and more fundamentally of knowledge and talent, which constitutes the output of the academic system and the input of the industrial system is not utilized the best way.

Similarly, the disparities are also more apparent than real. Industry believes that its core requirement is speed of execution and that the academic environment is not exactly speed or delivery oriented. On the contrary, it is perhaps the educational system that has a very rigorous and time bound study calendar which it implements with predetermined accuracy. Academics believe that industrialists are content with application and repeatability for most part and that they are less concerned about knowledge and creativity as a work ethic. On the contrary, it is perhaps more incumbent than ever for the industries to be creative to retain or achieve competitiveness.

Drug discovery as a case study

While the concept of academic and industry collaboration is applicable for all industries, the pharmaceutical industry has all the promise to be a major domain for such collaboration. The Big Pharmaceutical Corporations traditionally dedicated to innovative drug discovery have moved away from a “high cost, long lead, low productivity” model of conducting all research in-house to a “low cost, low lead, smart development” model of industrial outsourcing and academic collaboration. Academic institutions abroad play a major role in triggering new scientific and technological development through academic research and converting them into industrial activity and business wealth. Genentech is a great example of this process. A large number of drugs that have been discovered or are in the development pipeline owe their origins to academic research. Some examples such as Pemetrexed (Alimta), Darunavir (Prezista), Astrasentan (Xinlay) and Emtricitabine (Emtriva) come to mind.

According to a research study (“National Origins of New Drugs”, Nature Publishing Group 2005), an analysis on drugs approved by the FDA between 1997 and 2008 suggests that 58 per cent were discovered by Big Pharma, 18 products by biotechs and 24 percent by universities. Of the 24 per cent discovered by the universities, interestingly, 8 per cent went to Big Pharma and 16 per cent to Biotechnology. On certain other criteria such as share in discovering drugs for unmet medical needs and drugs for orphan needs, biotechs and universities had a higher share. Willingness and creativity to experiment, which is a true benchmark of accomplished academia could be a driver for this. Quite apart from discovery of drugs, academic and industrial sponsors can collaborate on drug structure prospecting studies, receptor identification, biomarker development, mechanism of action studies, molecular pharmacology, molecular biology, target development, new dosage forms and novel drug delivery technologies.

Creativity and serendipity

Creativity has no boundaries. It is interesting that many of the blockbuster drugs approved in Japan were discovered by non-pharmaceutical corporations. In fact, it is a uniquely Japanese phenomenon to have pharmaceutical operations within non-pharmaceutical companies in Japan. Evoxac (cervimiline hydrochloride, partly by Snow Brand), Starlix (nateglenide, Ajinomoto) and Spectracef (cefditorin pivoxil, Meiji Seika) are the three Japanese drugs discovered by food companies. Eloxatin (oxaliplatin) came from a precious metals company, Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo. Several agricultural and plant products have given rise to medicinal products and food supplements. The willingness to constantly search for new applications has helped scientists to be creative.

Serendipity is one of the many factors that contribute to drug discovery. It has played a role in the discovery of prototype psychotropic drugs that led to modern pharmacological treatment in psychiatry. It has also played a role in the discovery of several drugs that have had an impact on the development of cardiovascular drugs. Serendipity in drug discovery implies the finding of one thing while looking for something else. This was the case in six serendipitous discoveries (out of a basket of twelve drugs covered in a Vanderbilt University research; Dialogues Clinical Neurosciences, 2006 : 8 (3) : 335-44) namely, aniline purple, penicillin, lysergic acid diethylamide, meprobamate, chlorpromazine, and imipramine. In the case of three drugs, i.e., potassium bromide, chloral hydrate, and lithium, the discovery was serendipitous because an utterly false rationale led to correct empirical results; and in case of two others, i.e., iproniazid and sildenafil, because valuable indications were found for these drugs which were not initially those sought The discovery of one of the twelve drugs, chlordiazepoxide, was sheer luck.

The freedom of academics sparks the creativity of science and helps cross-functional and cross-domain discoveries. Breakthrough concepts of artificial intelligence and biological cloning have resulted from university professors and researchers. Most Nobel prizes in science and medicine are garnered by university academics. Great institutions like Karolinska University are not only in the forefront of not only education and research but also in the vanguard of an intellectual ecosystem for entrepreneurship and commercial development. Many of the Silicon Valley startups have university connections that enabled great new ideas of professors and researchers see commercialization as entrepreneurial ventures. There is no reason why the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), National Institutes of Technology (NIT) and other premier universities cannot create knowledge ecosystems in India.

Competency building

In parallel to the product-focused research, academic institutions and industrial organizations can collaborate to develop students with skills and competencies that are required for cutting edge science and technology and convert the skills into commercial capabilities. The world is placing significant hope and trust on India delivering the unique advantages of frugal engineering, novel technologies, high quality, rapid commercialization and cost-competitiveness. This requires a talent pool which has not only an excellent knowledge base but also an ability to apply such knowledge to industrial scale development and global networking. The relative shortage of such talent, despite the high number of graduates, postgraduates and researchers has resulted in a skew in the employment market. Companies and educational institutions must collaborate to develop the requisite talent pool. Two way sabbaticals of industry professionals and academic professors, mutual lecture sessions, live projects in industries, symposia, and consulting assignments by universities would be great ways to strengthen the talent pool.

Institutions of higher learning not only provide the private sector with skilled human resources, but also support the sector in many other ways, including research and development . Collaboration between the academia and industry plays a crucial role in fostering public and private sector competitiveness, through both indirect and direct knowledge transfer. The indirect knowledge transfer is achieved through such activities as industrial training, using members of the academia as consultants in the private sector, holding joint workshops and conferences, and journal publications. On the other hand direct knowledge transfer is achieved through collaborative research and/or purchases of patents. It should be noted that in both types of knowledge transfer, knowledge flow is in both directions, between academia and industry. Knowledge from the academia to the industry is used to improve products and services, while the knowledge from industry to the academia is used to define disciplines, develop curricula, design short courses, and improve pedagogy.

Government, the vertex of knowledge triangle

Globally, governments have played a significant role in fostering industry academic collaboration either by policy or financial incentives. The progress made by several developed economies is directly attributable to the knowledge and talent ecosystems that governments, universities and industries built together. The United States has been the pioneer in funding academic research and institutional development of knowledge with commercialization of intellectual property. Europe has been also a major harbinger of scientific and technological innovation for commercialization. A study of select Asian countries by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as reflected in its work “Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property and Effective University-Industry Partnerships: The Experience of China, India, Japan, Philippines, The Republic of Korea, Singapore and Thailand (2007)” has interesting insights.

In these countries, development and expansion of University-Industry (U-I) relationships during the study decade has been a result of goal-oriented and deliberate public policy efforts. The areas of focus have included: defining the legal status of universities and their professors, relaxing or removing regulations that prevented faculty members from working with companies, developing policies on intellectual property rights, establishing technology transfer offices, creating funding schemes, and ensuring adequate financial resources for research and development activities at universities. Asian countries, both developed and developing, demonstrated a consensus that universities and public laboratories should make greater contributions to countries’ overall economic growth and competitiveness. While universities, industries, and publicly-funded research institutions should be allowed to develop working relations with each other through their own initiative, governments also have a responsibility to establish laws and practices that would give proper incentives towards collaborative research activities. At the same time, WIPO cautions that we must be careful not to forget the importance of long-term scientific goals and educational responsibility. Universities should not cave in to the pressure to generate quick commercial outcomes.

In all of the Asian countries that participated in the WIPO project, some type of policy framework, underpinned by laws and government regulations, has been put in place over the last two decades. According to WIPO, ideally, the policy framework should serve three purposes: first, to state publicly the intention of the government with respect to the direction universities and industry should take; second, to lay down legal rules for the conduct of universities and industry, for example in relation to the management of IPRs; and third, to secure financial resources and incentives to facilitate collaboration. Not all countries have policy frameworks that serve all the three purposes. In certain countries, the legal status of universities needed to be redefined by new laws so that they could operate as independent and responsible entities. In others, there was no need for new legislation. In some countries, governments are taking pro-active measures to boost U-I collaboration, while in other countries they play more backseat roles, allowing universities and industries to determine their own courses of action. The legal frameworks are very different among the Asian countries that participated in this project. In addition to the legal framework, some countries draw up basic plans and goals for U-I collaboration with a view to setting forth future directions and accelerating the trend. Such basic plans are meant to be reviewed and if necessary, modified regularly to take into account the progress to date.

'GAIN' as a paradigm for India

In India, which has among the best university, industrial and legal systems of the world, Government has a major role to play in the academy-industry collaboration. For one, most high level scientific and technological institutions in India are sponsored, funded or regulated by the government. Secondly, government funding and tax policies have a major role to play in seeding the thoughts of collaboration and incentivizing. In the US as well, federal funding is a major trigger for academic research. In India, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) of the Government plays a major catalytic role through programs such as Industrial R&D Promotion Program, Technology Development and Demonstration Program, Technopreneur Promotion Program and Technology Development and Utilization Program. Of these, TDDP has been playing a significant role in strengthening the interface between industry R&D establishments and academic institutions through a variety of schemes and projects. Yet, the impact in terms of intellectual property creation and commercialization is not as deep as it ought to be.

Eventually, for a national impact, India would need a model of Government-Academy-Industry-Networking that is win-win for all the stake holders and the nation at large. One of the concerns industry has in sponsored research is the protection of intellectual property while the academia similarly have their concern for creative freedom. There is a need to combine creativity and novelty of positive university thinking with the rigor and discipline of real proof-of-concept that is required by the industry and regulators to achieve win-win commercialization. In this joint endeavor there is no question of who is better; chemistry is as important as biology, and extending it further, discovery of a preliminary proof-of-concept drug and its advancement to commercialization are equally important. Government on its part would like the educational institutions to generate some royalties out of the intellectual property generated which would help the institutions reinvest for better infrastructure.

Under the GAIN paradigm, the government would develop, through a joint expert committee, a standardized and transparent model of academy-industry collaborative agreements which will enable open collaboration and cross fertilization. In certain sunrise sectors, the government would need to take specific initiatives. For example, the Taiwanese government launched a Project called “Two Trillions & Two Stars” to promote industry development, in which the two stars referred to were the semiconductor and display industries. In order to convert the traditional production-strength business model into advanced technology, the need of qualified talents was identified by Taiwan as a crucial factor to keep up with the future plan. Therefore, Government, Industry, Academy and Research Institutes cooperated to provide technology training programs in Taiwan. One action initiated by Industrial Development Bureau, Minister of Economic Affairs (MOEA) was to establish “Semiconductor Institute” in 2003 to meet the challenge of professional and technical talents shortage issue. In addition, different kinds of organizations worked together to synergize programs for international investment and local industries.

India, with its several thousand colleges and universities as well as hundreds of public and private research laboratories could be catalyzed into a knowledge network by government policies. Transfer of academic research to entrepreneurial ventures on zero fee but commercialization linked royalties could be a great way to develop faith in the accomplishments of Indian research that are dormant. Larger firms and universities can play a more proactive role by setting up cutting edge centers of excellence in sunrise fields. Government can extend its effective role by providing the seed capital for such ventures which usually require mega capital. Active participation by the institutions and industries for such centers would be enabled if the sponsoring units are provided dedicated access to facilities and research. Centers for biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, genetics, and alternate energy are best supported by such collaborative endeavors.

Knowledge cities for GAIN

The Government of India has just announced a National Manufacturing Policy which envisages the creation of 12 mega National Investment and Manufacturing Zones (NIMZs) in the country to spur massive industrialization and make Manufacturing contribute to 25 percent of the GDP. For achieving global competitiveness and self-sufficiency through manufacturing, knowledge that can stimulate product and process competitiveness is even more necessary. GoI should consider the IITs, the IISc, the NITs and CSIR laboratories as well as the GoI recognized industrial R&D centers (totaling say 100 to start with) to take the lead for creating the knowledge cities around them. Networking would be as important as physical assets to translate GAIN into a successful operating paradigm. As with National Manufacturing Policy, GoI should soon come up with a National Knowledge Policy, with National Knowledge Cities and Government-Academy-Industry-Networking as its principal platforms, and national innovation and global competitiveness as the principal objectives.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on October 26, 2011.

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