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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

AbbVie and QUT collaborate to enhance local commercialisation of new medicines

Health Industry Hub | March 29, 2021 |

Pharma News: An academia-industry led program equips researchers and entrepreneurs with the knowledge, skills and networks to enable the successful commercialisation of new pharmaceuticals.

In an interview with Health Industry Hub, Professor Lyn Griffiths, Director of Centre for Genomics and Personalised Health and Director of the Bridge and BridgeTech Programs Queensland University of Technology (QUT), discussed the development and evolution of the Bridge Program, the diversity and collaboration from stakeholders including AbbVie Australia that has led to the success of the program, and where the future will lead.

The Bridge Program was initiated through the pharmaceutical industry in 2017 as they recognised a gap in commercialisation training for researchers and start-ups in Australia.

The Bridge Program was awarded industry matched funding through MTPConnect’s Project Fund Program and now the Medical Research Future Fund’s Biomedical Translation Bridge Program to deliver an exciting education program that provides the necessary training to enable successful commercialisation of Australian pharmaceutical research. The QUT was chosen to facilitate the development and delivery of the Bridge Program on behalf of the consortium.

Dr Laura Issa, Business Development, Search & Evaluation Lead at AbbVie Australia and New Zealand told Health Industry Hub “AbbVie has been a proud supporter of the Bridge Program since its inception four years ago. The program is a great example of an industry-lead program with an active Steering Committee that contributes to program design, content and provides expertise and advice to the program cohort and alumni. As a member of the steering committee, I can say it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.”

Professor Griffiths said “Each year we take 100 applicants across Australia and occasionally from New Zealand. Our aim is to provide commercialisation training for mid-career researchers who are starting to produce IP and just don’t have that appropriate background to turn the research into a commercialised medicine.

“The Bridge Program steering committee includes Medicines Australia and the pharmaceutical companies AbbVie,  Johnson and Johnson, MSD, Novartis, Pfizer, Amgen and Roche. Also, several universities contribute to the consortium; Australian National University (ANU), University of New South Wales (UNSW), Macquarie University and QUT.

“The online training, developed in collaboration with industry partners, provides updates on entrepreneurialism, case studies, IP and regulatory requirements for translating research into practice. The online training accompanies networking events and face-to-face meetings which normally runs nationally and became virtual in 2020. This year we’ll run a hybrid model.”

The main part of the Bridge Program is the three-day symposium which welcomes national and international speakers from pharmaceutical companies, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), venture capital and legal companies. Participants take part in hands-on learning by engaging in the pitch fest. The pitch winners receive a fellowship to travel overseas and meet with key partners in industry.

Professor Griffiths continued “We keep in touch with our alumni community of over 400 professionals and each year we gain feedback on the program from new participants. We adapted the program delivery virtually in line with the COVID-19 environment which allowed more interstate collaboration that probably wasn’t there before.”

The diversity of the stakeholders in this program – pharmaceutical companies, universities and industry affiliates – is a testament to its success.

Dr Hansen Kosasih came across the Bridge Program through Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s (MCRI) business development team. “I was not aware of the commercial potential of my research. But through the program I realised that it might be possible for the basic research that I did to have a more translational impact,” he said.

During his time in the program, Dr Kosasih was selected as a winner of​ the 2020 Bridge Program pitch competition, receiving a $10,000 travel scholarship to tour the US pharmaceutical companies and program consortium partners. Previous tours have included visits to the headquarters of AbbVie, Amgen, MSD and Novartis.

Another example is QUT Professor Flavia Huygens who is combining research with business acumen to develop a new tool for rapidly diagnosing sepsis. Professor Huygens established Microbio, a biotechnology start-up company that uses bioinformatics, genomics and molecular microbiology for pathogen detection with a specific, sensitive and fast test.

“The program certainly makes you aware of the challenges involved in taking a product to market,” Professor Huygens said.

“It was fantastic to meet and to hear from people who have started their own companies and succeeded, who may have had significant failures on the way, but have endured. And it was such a practical program, through contact with the program’s industry partners, intensive workshops and learning how to pitch an idea to a top pharmaceutical company,” she added.

With regards to the evolution of the Bridge Program, Dr Issa told Health Industry Hub “We’d like to see the Bridge Program become more inclusive of diverse talent from regional and remote Australia. We have almost 400 Alumni which is a huge network of expertise and talent. We’d like to leverage that intellectual capital and resource to drive local and international collaborations and opportunities for professional development.”

Professor Griffiths commented “One of the things that I also wanted to do was to provide funding to enable researchers to take time off and spend a bit more time immersed in industry. Last year we secured funding through the Researcher Exchange and Development within Industry (REDI) Program, which is funded by Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), to do exactly that. Ten participants from each of the Bridge Program and the BridgeTech Program are chosen to receive a fellowship each year.”

“We’re also involved in a new commercialisation program that’s looking at providing training beyond Australia particularly in the Asia Pacific region. It provides start-ups an opportunity to learn cultural differences, connections, IP requirements and regulatory changes into Asia with focus on China, Japan and Singapore. We partnered with the Australia-China technology incubator and also with Life Sciences Queensland to run a pilot. I’d love to see that roll out a bit further because it is an important market for Australian start-ups. As the markets are so different, this will provide not just the training but the necessary connections and the networks,” she said.

Professor Griffiths concluded “This all started from the Bridge Program and it was all instigated by pharma companies who realised the gap and were keen to do something about it. We have great researchers that produce some fantastic publications, but you need to take that next step in creating jobs and translating the research from the lab to the bedside.”

As a results of the Bridge Program’s success and evolution, MTPConnect extended its funding into MedTech where there are different regulations and different partners in the medical devices, technology and diagnostics sectors. The spinoff, the BridgeTech Program, has a similar program structure to the Bridge Program but includes a different group of consortium partners including Cochlear, Siemens and Stryker and several other universities.


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