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Working at the interface of academia, industry and health and care

Published: 20 October 2020

Pete Thompson is Director of Programmes and Impact at NIHR Academy. In his blog he gives us an insight into his early career working with pharmaceutical companies and how as part of his current role he is encouraging more researchers and commercial companies to work together to drive forward improvements to care and interventions.

Before I joined NIHR I worked for a large pharmaceutical company and one of the first projects I worked on was developing new technology to reduce waste during drug manufacturing. The project was a collaboration between two companies and three academic groups from three different universities.

As my first ‘real’ job after completing my PhD this was a great opportunity to work with a range of experienced scientists in both a commercial and academic setting. I also got to see first hand the benefits of collaboration between academics and the commercial sector.

Working in this way the project was able to draw upon the combined expertise and experience from the whole team which resulted in some fairly rapid outputs. We produced several peer-review publications, the technology developed was quickly implemented into manufacturing processes of important commercial drugs allowing them to be produced for lower cost and some of the academics involved started their own spin-out company. Something that stood out for me was that every one of us involved could see our work quickly making an impact in a real world scenario.

Benefits outweigh challenges

It is not uncommon for academics to have concerns when the idea of collaborating with industry is mentioned. Questions get raised such as, ‘will this impact my academic freedom?’, ‘will managing the intellectual property become too challenging?’, ‘will I still be able to publish?’. These questions are understandable, especially if working with a commercial partner isn’t something you have done before.

However, from both my own personal experience, and from observing great examples of commercial collaboration from NIHR Academy Members, it is clear that the benefits of working with industry outweigh any additional challenges that may arise.

We all work in the field of health and care research because we want to make a real difference to people’s lives and to do this as quickly and safely as possible. The current COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the importance of turning research outputs into interventions that can be quickly delivered to patients and the public. This is where the real strength of collaborating with a commercial partner lies so we can see these developments being made at speed.

Opportunities with NIHR

Given the benefits of collaborating with commercial partners, we are trying to offer more opportunities through NIHR Academy to help early career researchers become more confident in working at the interface of academia, industry and the health and care system.

For example our Development and Skills Enhancement award can be used to develop and increase skills in entrepreneurship and working with an industry partner. We have also recently agreed a partnership with Pfizer who are co-funding awards through our Doctoral and Advanced Fellowships, the next rounds of which is open for applications on 22 October.

We appreciate working with a commercial partner may not be something many of our Academy Members will have considered before, however there are increasingly more people and organisations on hand who can support you if this is something you want to develop further. For example, most universities will have a knowledge transfer or enterprise team who can support you on a range of activities when collaborating with an industrial partner. NIHR can also offer advice and guidance and we’re also increasingly looking to provide additional support and training in areas that will help encourage more people to consider working with a commercial partner where it will add value.

As well as the additional opportunities we are providing for our researchers, we want them to know that they can use their NIHR career development award to establish new partnerships and collaborations with industry. It is these partnerships and collaborations that will keep pushing the boundaries of health and care research and see patients and the public quickly benefiting from new interventions.

 More information about the Doctoral Fellowship and Advanced Fellowship funding opportunities (open from 22 October 2020), including those available through the partnership with Pfizer, can be found on our Academy page.

If you are a NIHR Academy Member interested in collaborating with an industry partner in your research, or if you have any suggestions on how we can provide further support and guidance, email If you are an organisation who would like to work with NIHR researchers please contact

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