American Society For Nutrition

Public-Private Partnerships: Should Industry and Academia Work Together?

Public-Private Partnerships: Should Industry and Academia Work Together?

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
Posted on 04/24/2013 at 12:56:30 PM by Student Blogger
By Sarah Gold, EB blogger

Many scientists are skeptical of a public-private sector relationship, particularly when it comes to conducting research. Academics are hesitant to take industry funding for fear that their research will be misguided, or seen as less reputable, and many industry scientists lack trust for academics. But this may be a shortsighted perspective for both parties. According to Richard Black, PhD, VP Global Nutrition at PepsiCo and James Hill, PhD, University of Colorado School of Medicine, there are many compelling reasons to work together.  

Why work together
While Hill notes that one benefit to partnering with industry for research is funding, he believes industry's value extends far beyond that. “Industry touches people's lives,” he professed, “it's not possible to help people achieve healthy lives without industry.” According to Hill, academics excel in developing ideas, conducting the clinical trials, and developing science based programs, but they really need help from industry to get the programs out to the people.  Take America on the Move, for example. Academics conducted the research, and with industry's help, they were able to reach more than 5 million people.

However, he doesn't believe that asking the food industry to reformulate the products is the answer to healthier lives. Instead, he notes, the private and public sector should work together to market healthier solutions. If the hope is to change the food supply, Black notes, industry cannot seek to modify the food chain without knowing what needs to be changed, and the public health industry needs the help of the food industry to make those changes.

How to work together
Both men agreed that to effectively foster this partnership, there must be authentic trust. The partnership should be one of “mutuality,” noted Black. The two parties should work together to develop a common goal; and both sides need to relinquish control – it will not work if one side believes they are going to tell the other side what to do. Each party can bring strengths to the equation, and they should complement each other.  Establishing clear procedural steps and a general management process will allow for a positive partnership. Transparency is also a necessity.

The bottom line is that qualified, capable scientists work in both academia and industry. Working together towards a common goal will allow for greater public health outcomes. And as Hill reminded the skeptics in the room: just because you're partnering with industry, doesn't mean you're necessarily becoming an advocate for their product or service.

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