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Maxine Allen is Director of Business Partnerships in the Business Partnerships Office, Medical Sciences Division. In this story, Maxine shares her experience establishing and directing the Business Partnerships Office, detailing the strategic role this office plays in fostering industry collaborations, and offers her advice for building successful academic-industry partnerships.

Maxine Allen alongside a quote "Take advantage of the professional services teams at Oxford who can help you navigate the process of collaborating with a company. These include the Business Partnerships Office, Research Services and Oxford University Innovation."

What is your background?  

I have worked for over 25 years in industry and in academia. My academic background is in genomics and biomarker discovery and following my training, I moved to industry as a research group leader and programme manager at biotech companies in the US and UK for ten years before moving to Oxford University to manage academic-industry research consortia.  Shortly after starting the role at Oxford, I was asked to think about how we could better support our researchers in collaborating more with industry partners and how the university could provide more strategic oversight and management of developing major business partnerships. 

Tell us about your experience in setting up and Directing the Business Partnerships Office over the last 14 years 

I established the Medical Sciences Business Partnerships Office (BPO) in 2010 with Professor Sir John Bell and have oversight of the divisional Translational Research Office (TRO). To set up the BPO, I wrote a business plan to source funding from the university and external government funders to develop a small team to support the development of research partnerships and collaborations with industry. This timing aligned well with 1) a big push from pharma and other life sciences companies to actively seek external innovation sources to augment their R&D pipelines. We felt that Oxford, as a leading clinical academic research centre, was very well placed to work collaboratively with these companies and to secure a large amount of this business in the UK HEI system, 2) the desire for the university to diversify sources of research funding and to increase the amount of funding from industry, 3) the availability of dedicated funding streams for Knowledge Exchange activities (e.g. Higher Education Innovation Fund). 

What is the role of the Business Partnerships Office in the Medical Sciences Division?  

The BPO team explores new commercial research partnerships for Oxford University and the Oxford University Hospitals NHS trust, and has secured >£150m of industry funding for biomedical research in Oxford. We oversee Strategic research alliances with multiple corporate partners, including Bristol Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, IBM, Novo Nordisk, J&JI Innovative Medicine, Pfizer and Bayer. The BPO also coordinates a range of opportunities for Oxford staff to engage with industry and access translational expertise through industry sponsored fellowship programmes and academic-industry networking events 

What are your motivations for encouraging academics to work with industry?  

One of the goals of the university is to deliver positive impact. This is really hard to do effectively in isolation and partnering with businesses is one of the ways that we can team up and access external skills that can help us to translate and pull through our research knowledge and innovation into new therapeutic products, services and policies to bring public benefits. I’m proud of the role our BPO and TRO teams play in supporting these partnerships. 

What are your top three tips on working with industry? 

  1. Find the alignment in the research question that you want to tackle together.  Make sure that you understand why the output of the research is important to the company and to whom within the company.
  2. Spend time getting to know the industry team, building trust and establishing the right communication channels for your project so that you can create the framework to support a truly collaborative effort.
  3. Take advantage of the professional service support teams at Oxford who can help you navigate the process of collaborating with a company. These include the Business Partnerships Office, Research Services and Oxford University Innovation, as well as your departmental research support and finance staff.

What do you consider to be the success factors for university/industry collaboration? 

  • Good communications and aligned goals with buy-in from both parties
  • Mutual trust, an openness to be flexible and co-develop plans 
  • The right governance and partnership management supported by professional services teams can result in enduring and strategic partnerships with the potential to extend beyond the life of the initial project(s).