I’m currently working on a fairly large grant application for a company. The company wants me to do research on a subject on which I am very comfortable and knowledgeable. The process of writing and securing a research agreement with a company is much different than with the NIH, NSF or most charitable foundations. I am in regular communication with the company people and we went from a large number of research options and now are focused on a narrow research field based on the labs capabilities and the company’s needs. The negotiations went from a wish list, a broad but feasible program to a focused and manageable research project.
Because there are patent and intellectual property issues involved I need to refrain from talking about the company or its product. Hopefully the details will be public soon, but the absence of that information should not diminish the significance of this story.
The goal of the grant and research program is to help the company demonstrate that one of its drugs works. It is actually very exciting to be involved in planning and hopefully executing research that will be part of a body of evidence to support treating patients. I went into medical research to “help people” and I have continuously worked in areas where my work might be useful to benefit people and some of my work has been used clinically. I could have a substantial role in getting these new treatments to the patients and help them.
The company sponsored research grant has not been awarded yet, but I have been privileged to perform research for companies previously and can describe how subsequent steps are expected to proceed.
Soon we should settle on the research my lab will do for the company and the questions to be answered for the company. These questions and the answers from the research are called milestones. The milestones will tell us what steps to take subsequently in the research program for eventually treating patients. Once the research and sought after milestones are decided upon we will negotiate the budget and time line for the work. This is important because we need to cover costs in the proposal. The time line discussion is also important because the lab cannot stop completely what it is doing on other projects to work on the company’s grant.
This process is highly civilized but not guaranteed to result in grant funding from the company. It is very common for companies to solicit multiple scientists to see what they can get done at the best possible price. However, the odds of getting such a grant are much better than from the NIH or traditional funding agencies. Company grant success rates are about 33% whereas the NIH is between 1 and 10% right now. So, I’ll take my chances with the odds for company funding. To be blunt there are only two or three people in the world who could do the research program I am negotiating with the company and I’m sure that at least one of the others is NOT being engaged by the company, so I estimate my odds to be 50/50 for this grant.
What helps me, I think, with the process of getting company grants is that I have done this before and to a certain extent I “speak business” with the company. The company knows that I know that I am like a contractor being hired to build a house and that this research is the start with the foundation. I have to build the foundation solidly and get it done on time before moving on the framing the house. Eventually the house in this analogy will be an FDA approved drug helping patients.
My advantage in this negotiation with the company is that I have taken the time to learn something about the business of science. I took classes and read on the subject and it has been immensely useful for me. Therefore, I firmly believe that part of the education of scientists and researchers should be how to do commercializable research. This is important for science entrepreneurs as well as when working with companies. The other education that is needed in academics concerning commercially funded research is that it is not dirty money when doing research for a company. This is an absolutely requisite step to get a drug approved by the FDA and I believe it is an honor to play a role doing this. We need more useful work like this and I’m excited to play a part in this process.