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'We’ve learned a lot from each other' – an interview with an academic partner in IMI projects


Herman Goossens
Herman Goossens

IMI Programme Office: How many IMI projects are you involved in?

Quite a few. I was the scientific coordinator of the RAPP-ID project. I am also the coordinator of COMBACTE LAB-Net, a network of labs that supports clinical trials in Europe. Additionally, I am part of many clinical trials with different pharmaceutical companies.

IMI Programme Office: What is it like to be a partner in IMI projects? What are some of the challenges that you encounter?

When the private and public sectors work together, there are certainly some challenges. I have been doing this now for about six years and it has taken me a while to understand how the private sector works. It has also taken a while for the private sector to understand how we work. It is because those are two different cultures.

In academia, we tend to be less focused, less impacts-driven, less objectives-driven, and we tend to be more open-minded to just doing pure research and then we want to publish it in scientific journals. When you are collaborating with the private sector, you can’t play around too much with your money. You really have to be focused, avoid taking risks, and if things don’t work – you need to be willing to stop and try something else. In the public sector, we don’t have this flexibility and cannot stop research lines or contracts of researchers at short notice. That’s a completely different culture and it has been very challenging to bring those two approaches together. But we’ve learned a lot from each other and the collaboration has certainly improved a lot. I am part of many IMI projects where there is now an excellent understanding of each other and very good collaboration.

IMI Programme Office: What is the greatest benefit you reaped from being part of IMI projects?

From the academic side, what has been great for us is that we have been part of several clinical trials. In those trials, very interesting patient samples and isolates are collected linked to good patient data. In the past, when industry conducted a clinical trial on their own, this clinical trial came out with results and the drug was commercialised or it failed, but we never really got a chance to understand why the drug was successful or why it failed. Through this public-private partnership, we bring on board some of the best European academic centres on some of these trials, and they continue to work on those samples or strains. Thanks to this collaboration, we can now start to understand the failure or the success of those drugs, or how to even better use these drugs, for the benefit of patients. For me, that’s what matters most, to be more patient-centred in these projects and I think that’s what we’re doing better and better every day.

IMI Programme Office: What tip/advice would you give to an academic who is thinking about applying to an IMI project for the first time?

I think it is very important to collaborate with consortiums instead of trying to do things on your own. So identify good consortiums in Europe who are working in your field of research and then try to collaborate with them. And do that with an impact in order to build your reputation and make IMI consortiums more willing to accept you as a partner.

So make sure that you are the best in your field and then join a strong IMI consortium. Be prepared that there is some administrative burden. Also, be aware that it is not always that much money because in collaborative research you have a lot of partners and the money is distributed among many of them.

But what I try to explain to my academic colleagues is that it is not only the money that is important but also the fact that through these IMI projects you have access to large networks, to pharma, and you meet a lot of interesting people. When I look at my academic colleagues, I see that thanks to these collaborative projects some of them have also been able to attract money from other sources, because these collaborative projects gave them new ideas, new opportunities, or access to unique material for further research.

So you should focus on the long-term perspective and the opportunities that this kind of collaboration can bring you.