Working with Industry

Bruce Chabner, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston, Massachusetts

Keith Flaherty, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston, Massachusetts

Fellow summary authored by Xiaolin Zhu, MD, PhD

Dr. Bruce Chabner and Dr. Keith Flaherty demystified the process and built a clear roadmap for translational researchers who are interested in working with biotech or pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs and improve patient outcomes. When I was a resident, I chose the profession of a medical oncologist after witnessing so many patients’ lives changed by novel therapeutics. Entering my hem/onc fellowship, I vaguely understood that I would need to work with drug developers in the industry to eventually bring more treatment options to patients. Nonetheless, such education has yet to be structurally built into the curriculum of many fellowship programs. It was after Dr. Chabner and Dr. Flaherty’s talks that I started to feel confident about how to work with industry.

First and foremost, I learned the guiding principles of working with industry as a medical oncologist and translational researcher. Academics and industry have separate roles and goals. As physicians and researchers working in academia, we are rigorously trained and dedicated to improving patient care and generating new knowledge about human disease. Meanwhile, we also need to understand and appreciate the goals of the industry, which include making new products and rewarding shareholders. In terms of resources, while universities and academic medical centers are equipped with top minds and access to patients, industry holds the unique capabilities for large-scale and effort-intensive drug development in the “valley of death”. To achieve the common goal of bringing more effective and safe therapeutics to patients, understanding and appreciating these guiding principles is crucial to shepherd an effective and efficient collaboration with industry that can benefit both parties and eventually patients and the society at large.

I also appreciate Dr. Chabner and Dr. Flaherty pointing out how and what we as translational researchers can contribute through engaging with industry. Working with our industry collaborators, an academic physician or physician-scientist is instrumental in study design, which is key to success. With first-hand knowledge and experience in caring for patients, we can provide invaluable insights into patient selection, biomarker development and validation, endpoint determination, and correlative studies. In the era of precision medicine enabled by sequencing and deep phenotyping technologies, as well as artificial intelligence, direct investigation of human disease biology is made possible and can potentially transform medicine and drug development, but only when academics and industry can work seamlessly together toward the common goal of finding new cures.