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Complementary Bonds: Strategic Collaboration Between ELRIG and BPS Announced at Pharmacology 2019

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A new collaboration was announced Monday between the British Pharmacological Society (BPS) and scientific not-for-profit The European Laboratory Research & Innovation Group (ELRIG) UK at the annual Pharmacology 2019 meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The two-year strategic alliance will see the two organizations strengthen their respective positions and provide new opportunities to their members.

In an exclusive interview with Technology Networks, Steve Hill, BPS President and Professor of Molecular Pharmacology at the University of Nottingham, who unveiled the alliance during his address to the BPS’s AGM, said, “The BPS has over 4000 members worldwide, largely academic-based. If I go back to when I joined the society, we had a much bigger representation from the pharma industry and that has dwindled as pharma have gone into a more clinical focus. We've been really keen to have a much greater interaction with industry. What I mean by industry is Big Pharma, biotech, small medium enterprises, but also reagent suppliers and equipment manufacturers. The collaboration will be a “natural coming together of two large institutions that can benefit enormously from each other.”

Academia, meet industry

Both ELRIG and the BPS work within the UK biotech and pharmaceutical sectors but play complementary roles. The BPS organizes conferences, publishes three peer-reviewed journals and provides support to pharmacologists with educational and networking resources. ELRIG provides open-access knowledge to the UK life sciences sector by hosting a series of events and meetings, including Drug Discovery 2019 in Liverpool – see our coverage of the event here.

Chairman of ELRIG UK and VP of Discovery Biology at AstraZeneca Steve Rees said the collaboration would give benefits to members from both societies: “Really there are three areas where we think this will deliver added value to both groups of members. The first is through increasing the quality of our scientific meetings, through bringing ELRIG content into BPS meetings and vice versa. Secondly, to increase the opportunities to collaborate in networking, both through our meeting program and also through enabling access to ELRIG networking events to a broader community. The third area would be opportunities for publication, particularly for those involved in ELRIG science to consider publishing their science in BPS journals.”

Extra for early career researchers

One exciting aspect of the collaboration, say both Hill and Rees, is the opportunity to provide for early-career researchers, who make up an important part of the BPS’s membership, and as Hill points out, are the future of the society: “We have embedded them in our governance, they're voting members of every committee all the way up to Council. And we have a real drive to improve the career prospects of those individuals. If you look at all the metrics, only 5% of PhD candidates go on to an academic career, the rest go elsewhere, and we need to engage with those opportunities. ELRIG is also championing early career scientists; they're about to follow us in the same governance processes.”

Hill says that the BPS plans, through collaboration with ELRIG, to run meetings organized specifically for early career researchers and help arrange opportunities for young researchers to gain experience outside of academia.

The many faces of modern pharma

The announcement comes as academia-industry collaborations are on the rise; the number of such partnerships doubled between 2012 and 2016, with half of the roughly 25,000 alliances formed in 2016 part of the biomedical field. The collaboration includes a commitment by both groups to host joint and complementary meetings. For Rees, from both ELRIG and AstraZeneca’s perspective, the opportunity to use such events to bring together academic and industry is just too good to pass up: “What we hope to be able to do is to create new opportunities for academics to translate their research into industrial discovery, but also for industrial scientists to identify emerging trends and potential partners in the academic community that will help understand how our medicines are working and how our drug projects are delivering,”

Outgoing BPS CEO Jonathan Brüün sees a bright future ahead for the field as researchers reap the rewards of close links to industry. “What we hope is that the collaboration provides opportunities for our members to expand their networks, to encounter new ways of working, new discoveries, new ideas that they might not otherwise have been exposed to from these different sectors,” says Brüün.