Matching academic expertise with industry needs to produce safe and effective pharmaceuticals  

Business collaboration helps academic researchers understand industry needs and research problems.    

Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Technology Clare Strachan and Professor of Industrial Pharmacy Anne Juppo of the University of Helsinki have each found a shared research interest with the pharmaceutical industry: Strachan with Orion Pharma and Juppo with Bayer.            

The Finnish Research Impact Foundation’s Tandem Industry Academia Professor funding enables collaboration between University of Helsinki researchers and pharmaceutical companies, giving professors the chance to conduct research together with companies and in their facilities. The funding is granted for one year, but can be used over a maximum period of three years.    

Optimising drug efficacy and enhancing patient safety 

Strachan’s research project was designed from the outset together with Orion Pharma. The project uses new imaging methods available in academia, allowing the pharmaceutical industry to view the chemistry and physics of the surface structures of drug particles and dosage forms.    

The goal is to produce new knowledge about the surface structures of pharmaceutical preparations, which determine how well the drug dissolves and is absorbed into the body. This will enable optimising drug efficacy and enhancing patient safety.  

  “We’ll collaborate for three years. I’ll be working at Orion Pharma for about four months each spring from 2023 to 2025. As I see it, the benefit of this longer work period is that our research and collaboration have more time to develop and produce more meaningful and influential outcomes,” Strachan says, adding:    

 “My meetings with the Orion Pharma scientists have been highly inspiring and motivating.”   

New drug delivery technology makes life easier for patients

Ideally, the project results may revolutionise the development of protein-based therapeutics and create a new technology for wide application in the pharmaceutical industry. 

“Proteins are highly unstable and capable of changing their conformation and easily broken down in the human digestive system. The project explores how proteins and peptides can be delivered orally without their chemical structure suffering,” Juppo states.

She describes the research theme as topical and requiring the kind of special expertise in the technology and materials of medical devices that few companies and even fewer universities have.

“The project merges my research group’s experience in the stability of drug proteins with Bayer’s experience and research in the functioning and materials of medical devices.”

Juppo is working at Bayer in Turku from 1 March 2023 to 1 May 2024. For her, the benefit of an uninterrupted research period is being able to concentrate on the project. She has also been able to take a research leave free from teaching, the funding for which would otherwise be hard to find.

Collaboration between companies and researchers benefits both

Collaboration between businesses and academics can enrich research and teaching at the relevant university and provide companies with new knowledge and insights through academic expertise, infrastructure and networks.

Juppo notes that joining a product development team at a pharmaceutical company has upgraded her general expertise in the industry, which will benefit all University of Helsinki undergraduate students in industrial pharmacy, specialising bachelor’s and master’s graduates in pharmacy, and doctoral researchers.

Strachan shares this view and believes the increase in the quality and relevance of teaching will lead to the emergence of a new highly motivated student generation and the renewal of a valuable workforce in pharmaceutical development.

She also says that the influence of pharmaceutical drug analysis on drug development has increased and further research projects are being launched.

This model enables daily face-to-face interaction. Such continuous interaction sheds light on the specific needs of companies on the one hand and the opportunities provided by academic expertise and infrastructure on the other. Our collaboration helps fill knowledge gaps.

Juppo says that the benefits of working at Bayer include the unique opportunity to learn more about medical devices, including their polymer materials, processing and characterisation. The research done will be reported in publications.

“I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone in terms of my expertise, which has enabled me to learn new things and find new collaboration partners. Thanks to the new contacts achieved in this project, Bayer, other companies, the University of Turku and our team have applied for other funding for research on the use of artificial intelligence,” she says.

“My background is in the pharmaceutical industry, which has perhaps made it easier for me to roll up my sleeves and get to work together with the Bayer project team. Through me, Bayer has gained access to a Finnish and international network of experts, which has been of practical use in the project,” she concludes.

Both professors encourage applied academic researchers to explore the business perspective and network with the business community.

Juppo believes researchers should know what research topics are of practical relevance and what skills gaps exist. This creates opportunities for innovation. 

Strachan hopes that the increased multiprofessional communication and shared insights will produce long-term benefits.