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Christopher Buckley is Kennedy Professor of Translational Rheumatology and Director of Clinical Research in Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences (NDORMS), and also NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre Theme Lead (Inflammation). In his story, Chris highlights the need for collaboration between researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and healthcare providers, and explains why building trust and understanding is key to successful collaborations.

Christopher Buckley alongside quote "Working with industry has had numerous benefits, including publications, follow-on funding, and expanded networks. We've also seen significant discoveries and new knowledge emerge from these collaborations"

Can you tell us a bit about your experience of working with industry? 

I enjoy operating across different spheres and especially between academia and industry. The old days of staying in one job for life are gone. To tackle big questions, especially in medicine, you need three critical areas: a good idea (research), reagents (drugs), and patients. My focus is on experimental medicine. You need all three elements, but one person can't do it all.  

Pharmaceutical colleagues want to help people, but they need to make money to fund delivery and trials. The NHS focuses on seeing patients quickly and cost-effectively, Academic researchers aim to publish papers and secure grants. Understanding these differing incentives is crucial for successful collaborations across these three areas   

What motivates you to work with industry? 

My motivation is simple: I want to get drugs to people earlier. The current system is too hit-or-miss. The process is sporadic. We need more streamlined efforts like we saw during COVID-19. During COVID-19, we observed how quickly things can move when there's alignment between the three different sectors. Unfortunately, the incentives in research, industry, and patient care often don't align, making it challenging to maintain momentum. To overcome this, I believe in linking people who can bridge two areas at a time, creating a network of interconnected efforts. 

Can you describe the types of collaborations you've been involved in? 

There are many types of collaborations, from investigator-initiated projects to larger consortia. Combining funding from industry, government (like UKRI), and philanthropy creates a robust structure. We've structured our team so that everyone has a leadership role, ensuring recognition and trust in each other. This creates a sense of ownership and partnership, which is crucial for the success and durability of these collaborations This approach addresses a cultural issue in universities, where individual achievements are often prioritized over team efforts. 

What have been some of the key outcomes of your collaborations with industry? 

Working with industry has led to numerous benefits, including publications, follow-on funding, and expanded networks. We've also seen significant discoveries and new knowledge emerge from these collaborations. Strong, long-lasting relationships with industry partners have been a major outcome, as has the joint intellectual property and translation of research into practical applications. One interesting aspect is how much more industry partners value efficiency and practical support over traditional academic incentives like authorship.  

Furthermore, NHS consultants are more interested in making their clinical work easier and more efficient rather than necessarily getting their names on papers. This insight has shaped how we approach collaborations, focusing on mutual benefits and practical solutions. 

What are your top tips for working with industry? 

My top three tips are trust, trust, and trust. It's all about people. You need to understand their pressures and perspectives. For example, if an industry partner tells me they need to make a decision quickly, I have to respect that urgency. It's crucial to be open and honest about each other's needs and constraints. 

Also, always consider what's in it for the other party. Don't be overly polite or vague. Address their needs directly and find ways to make things work.  In the NHS, this might mean providing clinical support to help recruit patients for trials. Ultimately, building trust and understanding is key to successful collaborations.