Working with - and for - industry

By Melissa Miller posted 12-02-2021 02:49 PM


With the theme for our fall research symposium focused on graduate students and their research discoveries, we wanted to look ahead to post-graduation and provide both students, recent graduates, and faculty insight into working with – and for – industry. While the science is a critical component of both academia and industry work, the methods and motivations for the two have some differences.  

J R Tait, Director of Genetics Product Development at NEOGEN Corporation, moderated a panel comprised of Michelle Kromm (Hormel Foods), Patrick Klepcyk (Iowa State University), Rick Sibbel (Executive Veterinary & Health Solutions LLC), and Jeff Knittel (Merck Animal Health). 

Industry Perception on Research Priorities 

Kromm began the presentations with “Industry Perception on Research Priorities,” sharing her perspective on keeping academic research relevant and what it takes to do research in the field. Kromm emphasized that basic research is critical, but the challenge is how to apply that basic research in the field. Communication between industry and academia in both directions is important to ensure that the needed outcomes of both are being met – this topic area often moves very rapidly and responsiveness is required for emerging issues.  

Kromm described how work doesn’t stop for industry even after academia has completed the basic research – there still need to be field trials to ensure the intervention works in the dynamic environment it was intended to impact. She closed by asserting that industry needs academic partners to continue to address AMR issues to continue to meet consumer and shareholder needs. 

Primer on Intellectual Property 

Klepcyk discussed what happens with the innovation on the academic side that can be licensed for commercial development. Universities have their own departments, such as Iowa State University’s Office of Innovation Commercialization, that works to commercialize technologies created by university researchers for application in the field.  

Klepcyk defined intellectual property (IP). Patents must be a new composition, process, or machine; must be novel; must have utility; must be not obvious to one skilled in the art; and the disclosure must be enabling. The parameters for these qualities are not hard and fast and there is an art to defining something as patentable. Other types of IP include copyright, “know-how” (academic version of a trade secret), trade secrets, trademarks, and trade dress. Additionally, tangible property like germplasm, antibodies, cell lines, animal models, are licensed. 

Discoveries are handled differently depending on the funding source. At ISU, publicly funded research is reviewed, evaluated, and protected, then their office markets the innovation to industry on behalf of the PI. Industry funded or partnered projects often involve an early relationship between the industry and researcher with an eye on prospective issues to solve a market need. In those instances, rights related to access, use, development, publications, etc., are negotiated before discoveries are made. 

Comparing Academic and Industry Research Labs 

Sibbel began comparing the “end game” of research: for academia, it’s publishing; for industry, it’s marketability. “We need discovery research, but even more, we need discovery research that solves a current problem in the industry [the researcher is] targeting.” Sibbel asks the question, “What solution are you solving?” Sibbel argues that solutions without a problem is a waste of resources. 

Sibbel pointed out five main considerations for translating academic into industry research: 

  1. Get to the target species as quickly as possible with the discovery. 
  2. Repeatability, repeatability, repeatability! Sibbel says, “Discovery is the first step in a ten part process.”  
  3. Regulatory hurdles are the guidepost by which we measure whether we’ll be successful. 
  4. Scaling up the delivery of enough doses to meet demand at a price point is often underestimated but absolutely critical. 
  5. Intellectual property is laborious, complicated, and interpretive.  

Sibbel closed by saying “Science is beautiful….but it has to have practical application to make a difference.” 

Skills and Competencies Needed for New Industry Hires 

Knittel closed out the panel presentations by giving an overview of what he looks for in making a new hire, based on Merck Animal Health’s “Ways of Working” program:  

  1. The ability to network. Are you siloing your information, or working both internally and externally within your network? 
  2. The ability to empower others.
  3. Planning to execution. At the end of the day, studies need to get done. 
  4. Continuous learning. 
  5. Withholding to sharing. It’s great to generate date, but we have to share it with colleagues.  

Additionally, Knittel encouraged students to work on their communication skills, both written and verbal. He also encouraged critical thinking, willingness to listen to others, challenging the status quo, agility, and know your customer. He closed with the following advice: be purpose-driven, have high integrity and ethics, be patient focused, and be able to work in a diverse and inclusive environment.  


Overall, this was a fun hour filled with great advice and information. We hope you’ll join us for our next quarterly research symposium on January 26, 2021. There’s still time to submit your abstracts for the theme “AMR Stewardship Through Antibiotic Alternatives, Vaccinology, and Other Therapeutics.” Visit this link to submit by December 10!