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Eight Steps to Developing Research Relationships

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by Blake Ebersole -

Developing relationships with scientists is much like any other; the first step is in understanding scientists’ challenges and needs. Sensitivity to the ways of the scientific research world, especially academia, is one of the best ways to get the most out of your research investment.

As for what else a supplement manufacturer needs to do:

Show an interest in the science. Like anyone, scientists can sense if you’re more interested in doing great science or just the marketing benefits from it. Offer solutions that boost both scientific and business objectives. Add to the debate and question assumptions.

Try to discover something new. There are thousands of questions to be answered and thousands of different study designs. To be industry-relevant, adopt “standard” methods used widely—but allow some space for new discoveries. Also, test some new hypothesized bioactivity or clinical effect.  One-hundred percent “me-too” science just isn’t very interesting to scientists or consumers. Plus, new findings are more likely to go viral.

Decide on a budget and be realistic. Most research costs money, unless you can get into a study funded by someone like the NIH. But government funding is decreasing every year, while grant applications have multiplied exponentially. Performing strong research often requires expensive labor and materials, and the coordination of many different shared resources.  

Offer unrestricted grants for basic research. Research seeking to understand mechanisms of action often best developed step-by-step, making long-term planning difficult. Unrestricted grants that don’t guarantee a specific study plan allow you to support critical shared resources, and they prevent you from painting yourself into a corner at the beginning of your scientific journey.

Agree to milestones for projects, but anticipate delays. University-based, public-funded research requires the alignment of many parts, so some projects hit snags. Plan in advance to prevent potential troubles with approval, recruitment, testing, or finances. Add a “delay buffer” to your timeline for a more realistic expectation.

Decide whether to publish research results and, if so, where. Agree early on who owns the data and who has final decision on whether to publish results. Deciding this early on is a good idea because it sets the standard for the rigor of study design. It’s not necessary to always publish in a patent application or journal. Consider the fact that by publishing, you are likely helping both humankind and your competition. Decide which one outweighs the other.  

Presentations at research conferences are sometimes a good idea because you can “publish” data that is somewhat peer-reviewed, and isn’t widely available to the public.

Scrutinize everything. Analyze all methods, data, and reports closely; question them to the best of your ability. Form an internal peer review panel of experts from related disciplines. Be sure to give yourself and other sufficient time to review and discuss revisions.

License technology. Many universities have inventions or start-ups that quietly clamor for attention and funding. Look for available technologies that are scalable and offer a new benefit for humankind.

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