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Building a culture of translation at UK DRI: A Q&A with Director of Innovation & Business, Kay Penicud

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We have a clearly defined goal at the UK DRI to develop effective therapeutics and technologies for dementia. Alongside building our disease knowledge over the coming years, we must also make progress in translating these discoveries into the clinic. But what are the practicalities of this? And is translation all about drug discovery?

We spoke to our new Director of Innovation & Business at UK DRI HQ, Dr Kay Penicud, about her new role and how she will be helping researchers realise the full potential of their discoveries.

Kay Penicud

Hi Kay, can you tell us about your background and this new role in UK DRI HQ?

I’m a cancer biologist by training, but since my PhD I have worked in the pharmaceutical and investment space. Most recently my work involved technology scouting, evaluation and acquisition – the other side of the negotiating table to the UK DRI!

This new role at the UK DRI is all about helping realise the institute’s vision about getting research to impact patients sooner. I’ll be building a small team, and together we’ll be supporting translation and commercialisation, such as strategic collaborations with industry partners, intellectual property identification and protection, spin-out formation, licensing deals, proof of concept studies, and early stage clinical trials. We’ll also be working closely with host university contracts and tech transfer offices where necessary.

There are currently no effective therapeutics for dementia. How have you found the appetite for investment in this notoriously tricky research area?  

From a purely financial return scenario - aside from the obviously huge patient benefit - it is an extremely attractive area because of large patient numbers, long term interventions, and virtually no effective treatments already on the market that new treatments would need to displace.

However, this high reward is offset by the significant scientific risks associated with the area. As every UK DRI researcher knows, the brain isn’t an easy system to work in, the area has been chronically underfunded for years, and there are some very high-profile clinical failures.

I’m optimistic as there still remain some very committed pharmaceutical companies, venture capitals and other investors in this space, where I will initially be focusing my efforts. I also hope that new advances in the field, such as our understanding of the importance of the immune system and earlier biomarkers, are renewing interest in this critically important area.

What are the three most common misconceptions about translation that you have come across?

I think people are unaware that a large proportion of people working in industry have come from an academic background and are excellent scientists in their own right.

There is huge value in industry collaboration beyond funding. For instance, you may gain new perspectives on your work and access to sophisticated new equipment, technology, reagents and models.

Translation is far more than just drugs. It’s important that early career researchers are aware that you can also commercialise a wide range of products including protocols, biomarkers, algorithms and new technologies.  

What advice would you give academics looking to maximise the potential of their research?

When attending conferences, my first tip would be to engage and speak to industry scientists. You’ll know where confidentiality lies in your research, so you can keep these discussions quite broad if needed.

I would also advise academics to ask colleagues when they’ve previously engaged with industry, their experiences and even for an introduction if appropriate.   

How can researchers learn more about translation and their research?

I will be running an event series focused on key topics in translation and commercialisation. The first event is scheduled for 25 March on the broad topics of 'How to work with Industry’. We also have summer plans for a more specific seminar on identifying when you have intellectual property.

I am also very happy to speak to any researchers if they have questions. My contact details can be found on my UK DRI profile


Article published: 29 January 2020

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