The real world

For this biomedical researcher, the end-goal of research is to benefit people – and the key to unlocking that impact is strong industry collaboration.

Arguably, the ultimate aim for all health science research is to help people in the community. For Professor Mark Hulett, Head of the Department of Biochemistry & Genetics at La Trobe University, strong and successful partnerships with industry can make this a reality.

Mark has a striking history of industry collaborations, and says he owes a lot of this success to his decision to make his academic home at La Trobe.

‘Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to focus my research with an end-product in mind,’ says Mark, a biomedical researcher with a focus on infectious diseases and cancer.

‘I've been involved with a number of industry partners, and La Trobe is very supportive of collaboration with industry.’

Best of both worlds

Mark’s experience with industry amounts to decades, and his current partnerships include two biotech companies that are based on site at La Trobe’s Bundoora campus.

‘These days, the lines between industry and academic research are quite blurred, and will become more so in the future, so having industry partners on site is fundamental,’ says Mark.

For La Trobe, this isn’t a new frontier: ‘Biotech companies have been embedded here for decades,’ he explains. ‘There are a lot of attractive resources in terms of facilities, platforms, and access to equipment that industry can tap into.’

Mark says the intellectual resources are also an enormous bonus. ‘Industry benefits from working with us in that they get to tap into our intellectual capacity, our skill sets in basic biomedical research, and really high-end technical expertise that's normally very expensive to access.

‘As well, a lot of us have experience with industry – we have past histories of trying to get products into the marketplace, and all the hurdles and issues that come with trying to do that.’

That valuable expertise extends beyond professors: Mark says his PhD candidates collaborate with industry, and some even go on to be employed by biotech companies – which is a great outcome for all involved.

‘The companies get access to train up someone with the right skill set, which can help expand and grow their operations. A few of my past students have gone on to work with biotech companies. There are a lot of opportunities to have fantastic careers in industry.’

Talent brings money

The benefits of co-locating can also be financial – as funding bodies look favourably upon partnerships.

‘The government is trying to promote academics working with industry, so there are times when we’ve worked together on joint applications that have enabled us to attract funding and drive product development,’ says Mark.

Mark says the Research and Innovation Precinct, where the on-campus companies cohabitate, is a hub of successful partnerships.

‘There's often cross-seeding between the companies: they help each other with research, how to raise funds and move their products into the marketplace, IP and things like that.

‘It’s really a seamless, great model to have these companies embedded on site and totally integrated into academic life.’

But Mark says matching academics with industry is where La Trobe really shines.

‘The Precinct team play an important, supportive role in looking for partnership opportunities, identifying them and making those matches. They help manage all the paperwork, and the legal and IP side of things, where you can just get bogged down.’

Even the University’s location, in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, promises good things for the future.

‘We’re located in the northern precinct, which is a growth corridor,’ Mark says. ‘The opportunities here are fantastic, and the community is getting more engaged and familiar with what La Trobe does, because the University is all about promoting transparency.’

Mark says the future of research is moving towards these collaborations, and he’s very much onboard. ‘There's an element obviously for basic research, but the long-term goal is to produce benefit to the community, and to translate. To liaise with industry is the best way to do that.’