On the 16th June, we welcomed Kieran Murphy and Prof. Evis Sala to give the third lecture in our NCITA educational lecture series ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’. The lecture was chaired by Prof. James O’Connor and through an interactive Q&A session, Kieran and Evis discussed their views on the ingredients that lead to successful collaborations between Academia and Industry.

Kieran Murphy is the former President & CEO of GE Healthcare and has been involved in the life sciences and healthcare industry for more than 30 years. Prof. Evis Sala is Professor of Oncological Imaging at the University of Cambridge, and co-leads the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre Advanced Cancer Imaging Programme and the Integrated Cancer Medicine Programme. All their views are their own.

To watch the recording of the lecture please visit the NCITA YouTube channel.

Case study of a successful collaboration between academia and industry

Prof. Sala shared an example of a successful collaboration between the University of Cambridge and GE Healthcare, where Prof. Evis and her team identified that a collaboration with GE Healthcare could help drive the development of an integrated care product to use for patient treatment decisions.   

Cancer patients are complicated: at multi-disciplinary team (MDT) meetings, it can be difficult to accurately summarise each patient and decide on the most appropriate course of action in a limited time period. This is a complex problem that needs a complex solution, and Prof. Sala and her team have been developing an algorithm to feed data from a range of locations into a treatment prediction outcome model, dynamically tracking treatment response of each patient, and applying these learnings to other patients which have similar profiles to improve the prediction over time.

The vision is to create an integrated multi-disciplinary dashboard that can be used across centres in multiple regions – not just centres of excellence – and this is where industry is needed to achieve this vision. In collaboration with GE Healthcare, the team in Cambridge are currently trialling their prototype in ovarian cancer, with the aim of having a product that can be used in multiple centres, to aid in clinical decision making and benefit patients across the UK. An advantage of partnering with industry is the ability to translate an idea into clinical practice within a much shorter time period than without industry.

“We want to reach the point where we can actually deliver this [product] to the patient and that’s where I think partnership with industry is essential, because academia will take years – if at all – to actually put [a product] into clinical practice, whereas a partnership with industry will take much less time.” – Prof. Evis Sala


When should academia collaborate with industry?

Industry are looking for “great science, great understanding, and great vision” to help develop initial research concepts and scale them up into widely used clinical applications. Choose an application where industry can truly help, and don’t collaborate for the sake of a collaboration.

“It is important to choose an application where you actually need industry – you shouldn’t collaborate for the sake of having a collaboration because then it could be a recipe for failure.” – Prof. Evis Sala

“The more volume and heterogeneity that you have, the better chance that you can have an algorithm or machine learning tool that’s going to be predictive. And so what we’re trying to do generally within industry is to develop platforms to ensure that algorithms which we are trying to develop have real application in real cases and the only way that can be validated is by the use of real data.” – Kieran Murphy

“From my point of view, ultimately to get something distributed you need some sort of commercial collaboration and without something being widely distributed it ends up being used in a very small population of patients […] so I’m a believer that the commercial companies have a very strong role here” – Prof. Evis Sala


What makes a successful collaboration?

A focused and supportive team: Success requires a full dedicated team on both sides that work together and maintain regular contact, with the understanding that there will be equal commitment on both sides that will lead to shared successes. It is crucial to have a focused concept so from an industry perspective they know exactly who will help and how the product will be positioned from the beginning.

“I think the [products] that clearly are not going to work are usually where we see a gifted individual that has a brilliant idea without having a supporting team […] and unfortunately to fully validate and get it up and running it requires a village on both sides – in both our teams and the academic centre side” – Kieran Murphy

“Reputation really matters on both sides, as well as a sense of longevity and a long-term commitment because there’s an understanding that this won’t succeed overnight – there will be roadblocks, there may be a need to pivot, there may be a need to refocus – and I think the relationships really matter and the commitment to have a team on the ground.” – Kieran Murphy

Communication and Transparency: Highlight issues as and when they arise, and ensure during meetings that everyone reviews and solves problems together:

“When things look like everything should be alright, but they actually turned out not to work – generally speaking it’s a breakdown […] where people kind of hide the fact that we’re not making progress – we may not know why – but that effort isn’t put in during meetings and reviews to problem solving and as such there is a very pleasant exchange which really doesn’t uncover the potholes. And that’s the secret I think to success – total transparency.” – Kieran Murphy

“Don’t forget we know what we know very well, and […] vice versa, so spend the time to work out what the problem is, what you want to see and really be patient with each other.” – Prof. Evis Sala

About the ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’ lecture series

‘On the Shoulders of Giants’ is a series of educational talks where experts bring their perspectives to encourage and challenge wider thinking within the cancer imaging research community. See below for other lectures in the series:

  • April 2022: ‘Screening for Cancer: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ with Prof. Michael Baum. Link to blog & recording here.
  • May 2022: ‘Is Pursuing ‘a Passion for Science’ a Position of Privilege?’ with Dr Heather Williams MBE. Link to blog & recording here.
  • June 2022: ‘Academia & Industry: What are the Ingredients for Successful Collaborations?’ with Kieran Murphy and Prof. Evis Sala. Link to recording here.
  • July 2022: ‘Striving for Evidence – With and Without a Randomised Controlled Trial’ with Prof. Tom Treasure, Tuesday 19 July 11.00-12.00 BST Link to further information and registration here.