Receptor brings research results to commercial use
The Receptor project tackles a significant, topical theme. Much of the top research carried out in Finland only ever leads to the publication of the results. The aim of this project is to include the university researchers into the product development phase as well.
The Receptor project, which focuses on the life science industry, aims at marketing Finnish top university research expertise to international businesses, and at getting foreign investments to Finland.
The Tampere-based life science expert service company FinnMedi Oy started the Receptor project in 2009. The project will be completed by the end of 2011. This is the final stretch of the project, and the first results will be published soon.
According to project manager Reijo Itkonen from FinnMedi Oy, Finland has plenty of top research expertise, but this has not led to successful business as often as it could have.
One of the aims of the project was to show universities that the final objective of research can extend beyond the results being published in an esteemed publication. Research and development could be utilised more effectively in commercial life, and through that, in an even wider context, which would in the end benefit several parties.
Project breaks new ground
Based on extensive surveys, four thematic expertise alliances were formed in the Receptor project, made up of research groups from different universities as well as of companies operating within the field. The entrance criteria used were competence and commitment to the project. The four research areas of the alliances are bone, cartilage and biomaterials research, neurology, vaccine development, and point of care diagnostics.
With the project, the research competences of the alliances – which should be understood more extensively than simply referring to individual research results or patents – were actively marketed to select international businesses.
The project coordinators have mapped potential international partners that could be interested in Finnish research expertise. At first, a couple of hundred such businesses were targeted, and finally a few dozen were selected for closer collaboration.
This meant active sales, in which the researchers themselves also took part in the marketing efforts in order to enhance the credibility of the sales operations. In addition, more traditional methods were also used, such as brochures, business trips to one-to-one meetings, and presentations at relevant conferences.
One significant factor in the Receptor project is that it is the most extensive national project in this field ever carried out. In addition to FinnMedi, Culminatum Innovation, BusinessOulu, Turku Science Park, and Kuopio Innovation, all members of the Finnish Science Park Association TEKEL, as well as Greater Helsinki Promotion, took part in the implementation of the project.
The thematic expertise alliances that each focus on a specific field of research are a significant aspect of the operation model created within the project, which is a completely new kind of approach in Finland.
“Cross-regional cooperation strives at reducing the competition between regions in attracting research-based investments, and the various members of TEKEL have strived to advance the joint national project,” says Reijo Itkonen.
“We hope that cooperation of this kind will also continue after the completion of the project.”
Business from research
The initial objective of the project was to acquire one cooperation agreement with an international operator for each of the four thematic expertise alliances, and to persuade at least one international business to start operations in Finland. In practice, this would mean establishing a product development unit in Finland.
“Even though finding partners to the project was much harder than expected, we will soon reach the objectives we initially set for the project. So far, we have made three collaborative agreements, and by the end of the year, we will most likely make two more. In addition, one or two businesses will probably be starting operations in Finland by the end of the year. We are very happy with the results of the project,” Itkonen happily says.
These collaboration contracts are not yet publicly available, but they include research communities within bone, cartilage and biomaterials research, neurology, and point of care diagnostics. Of these, neurology shows the most promise.
“The qualitative aim of the project was to develop an operation model which the research communities could use in order to expand outside Finland. We have clearly discerned that the younger researchers in particular are more open to the commercial utilisation of their research results,” Itkonen says.
“I think we should look at research from a more critical perspective in Finland. Funding should be more clearly connected to the results of the research – and on how to utilise them, in particular.”
Approximately 85 per cent of this project was funded by ESF funding from the Uusimaa Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, and the rest by the participants themselves.
“We hope that once the project is completed, the national and international operation models as well as the market-oriented attitude of the research communities will live on,” Itkonen concludes.
Text: Timo Kuukkanen, TekelScope