Panel: The Art and Science of Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration
Can you bring together competing research organizations to collaborate on a single research project? Are there models for these complex partnerships? The answer to both questions is "yes," and the consortium model has seen increasing popularity during the last decade of biomedical research. These large partnerships bring together several members of industry, academia, government, and patient organizations to create a solution that each could use to advance their own research objectives. It could be a concerted effort to better understand the biology of a single disease, to develop infrastructure for data-sharing among multiple research organizations, or to create tools that can be used by all, such as those that assess the safety/toxicity of a new therapeutic.
The FasterCures Consortia-pedia project continues to unearth a menu of objectives that these consortia are pursuing, and surprisingly, has so far found very little overlap among its growing list of 350 consortia. Not only does this exemplify the multiple opportunities for collaboration, but it also serves as evidence that collaboration is no longer an option, but a necessity.
Panelists shared on-the-ground insight during a discussion at Partnering for Cures on "The Art and Science of Multi-stakeholder Collaboration," featuring panelists representing different stakeholders who have initiated, managed, and participated in consortium activities, and moderated by Beth Meagher, director, Strategy & Operations, Deloitte Consulting LLP. All of the panelists agreed that there is a science and process for making these partnerships successful, but there are also over-arching challenges.
If there were a playbook for starting a consortium, the panelists voiced the following steps:
Define the objectives
You first need to "identify the key problem worth solving," said Maria Freire, president, Foundation for the NIH (FNIH). Pinpointing a problem that multiple organizations share helps to define the common goal and intent of the collaboration.
'Start with the end-in-mind as the focus,' advised Walter Capone, chief operating officer of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. "Focus on collective interests, not individual interests. For us, [the focus is] the patient."
Gigi Hirsch, executive director of the Center for Biomedical Innovation at MIT, urged the audience to make sure the objective is "unique, not a duplication of other efforts" and think about "formal or informal links with other collaborations" if there are similar efforts.
Develop and pursue a research strategy
"You need the right people," said Hirsch. Include representatives that know how to align the consortium's research objectives with the external and internal priorities of their own organization. And, reward those who participate in consortium activities so that the partnership isn't a "volunteer hobby." Rosenblatt added that it is important to make sure that the right people "have the skill sets that they want to use" so that they know they are contributing to the partnership.
Freire emphasized the importance of identifying a neutral convener who will be able to help the group develop milestones, achieve consensus, and create a nimble infrastructure. Hirsch added that this infrastructure should be truly collaborative and well-networked.
When developing a consortia, Capone said that identifying the "success" factor that can be measured during, and at the end, of the collaboration is vital from the beginning.
Address the challenges
Conceptualizing a partnership is easy, but putting it into practice has some challenges. There's the perception of "consortium-fatigue," which James C. Greenwood, president & CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, attributed to a "lack of coordination and too much redundancy." Greenwood added that there's a need to educate stakeholders about these activities and to also include government and Congress, as these latter groups can further incentivize these models of collaboration. As detailed in the FasterCures Consortia-pedia project, the largest third-party biomedical consortium conveners in the United States – FNIH, Critical Path Institute, and Reagan-Udall Foundation for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – were all created under government or Congressional direction.
Another point of disagreement among many consortia members is ownership of the consortium's products. Capone stated that each stakeholder needs to "give up a little bit of IP," as the partnership should be thought of as an investment in a shared "resource for research."
As resources continue to decline, research-by-consortium will increasingly be the model of collaboration needed to protect the pipeline of cures for patients who need them the most. The Consortia-pedia project aims to help those seeking strategies for collaboration by providing a framework for consortium management, and highlighting the output and outcomes from existing collaborations. It is indeed a science, not an art.
For more information
Follow the FasterCures Consortia-pedia project at http://www.fastercures.org/consortiapedia.