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Together, Let's Move at the Speed of Science

A condensed version of my address to academia, governments and industry during the Times Higher Education Health and Wellbeing Summit focused on the theme Improving Health Outcomes – Transforming Lives.

Bill Mezzanotte, CSL Chief Medical Officer and Head of R&D
CSL’s Head of R&D and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bill Mezzanotte gave a keynote at the July 8 Times Higher Education Health and Wellbeing Summit, which brought together leaders from top-tier universities, policymakers, world-class researchers and industry to discuss the role higher education institutions play in building a successful, prosperous and sustainable innovation ecosystem.

How fast should science move? Depending on the situation, you’ll get vastly different answers. Certainly, a global pandemic has taught us that even unprecedented progress can feel too slow when a crisis is unfolding. COVID-19 also underlined something we already knew: We’ll speed our progress if we collaborate and draw widely on expertise from all corners: private industry, academia and anywhere and everywhere researchers are asking thoughtful questions and answering them to help improve the lives of patients and public health.

That’s why CSL focuses so intently on our partnerships with universities, academic institutions and research hubs. It’s non-negotiable that we’re going to need outside expertise to help deliver on our current pipeline spanning six therapeutic areas across four scientific platforms while building our pipeline of the future.

By the numbers, CSL is home to 27,000 employees – 1,700 of whom work with me in R&D. But no matter how big you are and how much you spend on research, one company, acting alone, can never harness all the science and intellectual capital necessary to ensure a consistent positive flow of new, meaningful innovation. 

We have established our growing R&D footprint in parts of the world where CSL has a strong presence – continuing to make investments in Melbourne, Australia; Bern, Switzerland; Marburg, Germany; King of Prussia, Pennsylvania; and Pasadena, California to name a few. And we have concentrated our alliance efforts in proximity to these hubs to magnify the collaborative potential of each new deal.

In Australia, CSL’s global Research HQ is embedded within the University of Melbourne, where we lease lab space in their Bio21 institute in the world-class Parkville Medical precinct. This ensures CSL scientists have a multitude of interactions on a daily basis with University of Melbourne scientists as well as scientists from other institutions and teaching hospitals located there.

Soon, we will relocate our Global HQ to join Bio21 in the heart of Parkville. Then the full enterprise will have more opportunities for industry-academia cross-pollination. In fact, we are exploring additional, innovative ways to use this facility to help advance the great science in this area of the world.

Similarly, in Switzerland, CSL’s Bern Research group is embedded within the Swiss Institute for Translational and Entrepreneurial Medicine (SITEM), with close proximity to the University of Bern, teaching hospitals and local biotech companies. 

Hopping over to Germany, we are building a new R&D hub in Marburg – a world-class university town that gives us easy access to innovation across Europe.

In the United States, our breakthrough technologies lab at the University City Science Center in Philadelphia put us in the mix with world class institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.

Geographic locations don’t tell the whole story though. Just as important are the culture, behaviors and mindset we establish when we decide to work together. Better outcomes follow when the goal is connection, not trying to control everything. At the heart of this thinking is a “combinatorial” culture of complementary leadership and a spirit of true collaboration.

Those things are easy to say, but we’re putting them into practice. Here are my three tenets for good partnerships:

  • Whenever practicable in our collaborations, we strive to have our scientists work with the other scientists rather than just dictate a work plan. This enhances the two-way flow of expertise which we find satisfies a real driving value for academic researchers.   
  • We don’t point fingers when development challenges arise – and I have yet to see a full program that did not have its challenges. We focus on searching, together, for solutions.
  • We ensure work with our partners is properly prioritized and that the partner's voice continues to be heard. If we don’t think we can properly prioritize a program within our portfolio, we won’t bring it in. CSL is not a place where your ideas go to die.

Threading through all that must be a generosity of spirit. For instance, we will stay mindful that our academic partners are not contract research organizations. They have specific needs that must be met when working with industry. We’ll work hard to understand what both parties want and need to get out of the relationship and ensure the terms enable both parties to succeed. Give and take is essential on both sides.

We sometimes romanticize scientific breakthroughs, imagining that they occur because of a single genius or a singular lightbulb moment. But the reality of science looks more like a constellation than one shining star. It generally takes multiple lines of inquiry and the layered accumulation of knowledge and experience – and a whole lot of perseverance.

Around the world, our scientists are making point-to-point contacts at a multitude of universities every day. They’re adding one piece of information here, another piece of data there, as they seek to unlock the mysteries of rare and serious diseases. They’re exploring the evolving question of what it means to protect public health and to help save lives. Peer-to-peer exchanges enable innovation – they make it possible to look at an old problem in a new way. It’s why scientists get out of bed in the morning.

COVID-19 brought industry and academia together and showed us we can operate with a sense of urgency, ramp up innovation and remain nimble when people’s lives depend on it. Now we’re poised on the edge of a new era in scientific research. Let’s apply those lessons we learned. For our part, CSL will continue to seek out the brightest minds as partners in best-in-class R&D. Like rocket fuel, the insights we arrive at together will propel us forward at the speed of science.