Unpicking the translational journey: a multidisciplinary reflection on driving best-practice innovation culture
By Future Leaders Fellows, Dr Sophie Cox (Associate Professor, University of Birmingham), Dr Yueting Sun (Lecturer, University of Birmingham), Dr Obinna Ubah (Principal scientist and Program Lead, Elasmogen Limited), Prof Mohsen Rahmani (Nottingham Trent University) and Dr Noemi Procopio (Senior Research Fellow, University of Central Lancashire).
Funded through a recent Crucible workshop, five Future Leaders Fellows hosted a workshop at the University of Birmingham with the aim of better understanding the factors that support translation of research. During the two-day event the fellows heard from several guest speakers that had taken various paths to commercialise research.
On the first day, Professor Brian Robb (Industrial Professor, University of Birmingham) shared a series of case studies from his extensive career in manufacturing, highlighting how different factors can be more critical depending on the disruptive nature of the value proposition and the importance of access to technology maturation and pre-production facilities to enable effective translation of early-stage research to commercial implementation.
Dr Caroline Barelle (CEO, Elasmogen Limited) also inspired all the attendees with her heartfelt story that demonstrated that both hard-work and an appetite for risk is needed to successfully form and grow a biotechnology company.
Professor Stuart James (Professor of Inorganic Chemistry, Queen’s University Belfast) again spoke of an ‘itch’ to realise the impact of his research and despite initially being happy to return to non-applied research after forming his first spin-out company, he shared the spark and passion that innovation can drive within a researcher.
Finally, Dr Hyunwoo Yuk (SanaHeal, Inc. Boston, USA) provided the workshop with an international dynamic, which highlighted the critical role that the ecosystem may play in supporting and driving forward technology progression.
Interestingly, despite taking different paths there were several synergies identified across all of the day-one talks including the importance of building a collaborative network, working across disciplines, valuing people, evaluating your appetite for risk, and learning to talk the language of commercialisation. While each of the organizing FLFs were at different stages in their translational research journeys these take-home messages inspired and motivated them to continue their efforts.
Co-lead host for the workshop, Dr Sophie Cox commented, “Hearing reflections from a range of sectors demonstrated that while different translational journeys are embarked upon there are key critical skills and knowledge that are integral to success. This understanding lays a solid foundation from which to advocate for best practice across the UK.”
Co-lead host for the workshop, Dr Yueting Sun commented, “It was fantastic to have speakers and FLFs from diverse backgrounds and career stages. To me it was particularly exciting to learn how we can do better in translating fundamental science to innovation and impact.”
For Dr Noemi Procopio, “The Crucible workshop has been a deep learning curve, I have realized how unconventional and unique each translational path can be and returned to my lab even more motivated and determined to work towards something that, in the future, may allow me to finally take the leap towards translation”.
Dr Ubah, a business hosted Fellow who benefited from an early exposure to commercialisation and intellectual property management said, “The Translation workshop has helped me to appreciate the differences and unique challenges across different institutions/disciplines and sectors that may impede commercialisation and translation of research. I would hope that our continued engagement with KOLs across sectors and disciplines about Research Translation best practices and commercialisation (in a broad sense) will equip us with the right knowledge which can be disseminated to the wider fellowship network”.
The second day of the workshop was focused on contextualizing the learning points from the speakers and embedding this within a wider body of work being undertaken by the UKRI FLFDN team. Sharon Morgan-Young (Innovation Manager, FLFDN) and Paul Grimshaw (Knowledge Exchange Manager, FLFDN) who are leading on the development of a series of Toolkits, including one focusing on translation and commercialisation, shared their current thinking on the content and delivery format.
Sharon said, “The Commercialisation & Translation Toolkit that we are creating will benefit greatly from the input of the Fellows and other speakers at the workshop. It was immensely helpful to hear about the different types of translation support that Fellows have had at their own institutions and the challenges they have faced on their individual journeys. We hope to build a set of resources that address some of these shared challenges in a useful and engaging format.”
The group also heard from Dr Matt Lodge (Programme Lead for Business, Innovation, Impact and Evaluation / UK Research and Innovation) who is exploring opportunities to make the FLF renewal process more flexible and conducive to supporting research innovation.
Matt said, “The workshop was great, it created an environment that stimulated great discissions on the challenges and benefits of impact realisation and commercialisation; the outputs of the meeting will greatly help me in my work at UKRI, my thanks to the FLFDN, Future Leaders Fellowship Fellows and organisers for extending their invite to me.”
Finally, the group were joined by Professor Dominique Moran (Professor in Carceral Geography, Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor (Research Impact, University of Birmingham) who spoke about the University of Birmingham’s strategy for research impact and how this was being embedded culturally across the campus. This includes a new academic career framework that recognises enterprise, engagement, and impact as a core pathway for promotion.
After two days the Fellows returned equipped with a refreshing outlook on what research translation may mean; recognising the breadth of stages involved in this exciting process of realization while also beginning to see the dimensionality that research discipline brings to the table. According to Professor Rahmani, “It was fantastic to see through real case studies that commercialisation can be realised via so many different pathways; everyone must realise the most suitable scenario for his/her case.”
It was reassuring to see that the effort and dedication to these activities is being recognised at various levels, specifically through the development of Toolkits led by the FLFDN team. Certainly, if this forward-looking agenda can be filtered both from top to bottom while driving best practice across the country then the future of UK Innovation looks promising.