May 23, 2019 / All Stories

Exploring a patient-first partnership

Scientists at AbbVie and University of California, San Francisco collaborate with patient needs in mind.

Making a match

Do your passions overlap? Do you have the same long-term goals? Are you willing to do long-distance from the Chicago area to San Francisco?

Answering these questions may be reminiscent of online dating, but they have an important place in business relationships, too.

In fact, questions like these helped AbbVie leaders evaluate a potential partnership with University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), a research university dedicated wholly to health science.

The two groups made a match in 2013, the same year AbbVie opened its doors, solidifying an ongoing, broad partnership that allows for multiple collaborations between UCSF and AbbVie researchers, from exploring tissue targeting mechanisms to better understanding immunotherapy.

‘How does this translate to patients?’

AbbVie’s relationship with UCSF is among a growing number of partnerships with academic and research institutes that foster collaboration between scientists at both organizations.

While many industry-academic collaborations may focus on a particular therapeutic area or a single project, the UCSF partnership is structured in a unique way. It’s the first university-wide partnership AbbVie pursued, based on a shared interest in strong research in areas like immunology and oncology, and also a desire to truly work collaboratively.

“We think in the same way: how does this translate to patients?” says Steve Elmore, Ph.D., vice president, drug discovery science & technology, AbbVie, and UCSF partnership joint research committee member.

Because UCSF has many strong clinician-scientists, it means AbbVie researchers can work with people who are actually seeing patients and then incorporate their insights into the research.

An innovative research alliance

One key initiative that illustrates this benefit is the UCSF Immunoprofiler, an innovative research alliance of which AbbVie is a key partner, says Peter Kotsonis, Ph.D., executive director, office of strategic alliances, UCSF.

This alliance supports the collection and analysis of at least 500 tumor samples from more than 10 different forms of cancer, with the goal of better understanding and increasing the effectiveness of immunotherapy across a wider range of cancer types. All partners have access to the Immunoprofiler data and the ability to share insights that will lead to a deeper understanding of patients’ immune response.

UCSF approached AbbVie to participate in the alliance after years of collaborating on various projects, said Shankar Subramanian, Ph.D., head of academic and early-stage alliances, AbbVie.

“Because of our strong relationship, we have the ability to be first on the list when a new opportunity arises,” Subramanian says.

A grassroots nature

As the partnership has evolved, so has the overall model, allowing for many different work streams and the flexibility to pursue new projects. For example, the model allows for researchers to request funding to reach a key scientific milestone or get an existing project to the finish line, Elmore says.

“What’s special about this partnership is the grassroots nature of the science,” Elmore says. “Opportunities are identified by the scientists and teams, and they bring the passion to drive the projects forward.”

Learn more: Why partnerships matter: An AbbVie leader discusses the critical role of partnerships and why we must be agnostic when it comes to the source of innovation.

Key to the partnership’s success is bringing the scientists together to discuss new projects and pitch ideas to the joint research committee. Through roundtable discussions and scientific exchanges, strong connections are made, says Harold E. “Barry” Selick, Ph.D., vice chancellor for business development, innovation and partnerships, UCSF.

“Our interactions with AbbVie are among the most rewarding that we have had with a corporate partner,” says Selick. “It’s a true partnership, a true collaboration.”

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Adelle Infante
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