Abcam taps into world-leading research expertise at our Industry Forum

by Shirley Jamieson

Last week, Abcam, an influential life sciences company providing innovative reagents and tools to global researchers and one of Cambridge’s biggest success stories, met at the Hauser Forum with a group of University researchers to brainstorm.

The day-long sessions, known as Industry Engagement Forums, are run by Cambridge Enterprise to encourage academics to think broadly about their work and better understand how it can be used to create impact in both social and humanitarian contexts. Industry and organisations, meanwhile, take part in the forums to gain access to world-leading research expertise.

Chris Arnot, Research Tools Manager at Cambridge Enterprise, attended the session and said: ‘Abcam brought three themes forward for discussion and the University was able to bring together a number of key researchers to investigate these further. Finding people with overlapping areas of expertise is key to innovating and this is what we hoped to achieve on the day.’

Abcam was founded in 1998 by Jonathan Milner, a postdoc at the University of Cambridge. Since then the company has grown to more than 800 employees worldwide serving two thirds of the 750,000 global researchers to achieve their mission, faster. Abcam is just one of a number of companies – ARM, UNICEF, IBM, Unilever and Pfizer among them – that have participated in the forums to explore opportunities for industry collaboration.

During the events, companies and researchers work together in small groups. Participants identify areas of common interest that may lead to future research collaborations, studentships and secondments. All researchers are welcome to take part, from professors to postdoctoral researchers to PhD students.

Over time, the forums have enabled the creation of more established relationships between companies and researchers. The company benefits from discussion with bright researchers, and University staff gain insight into topics of particular interest to the industry, including challenging topics and roadblocks that could be overcome with relevant research and expertise. Instead of asking companies to bring problems they face to the forums, we ask them to provide themes that are commercially important for the company and that will engage the researchers attending. The morning is spent brainstorming ideas around the themes and in the afternoon the best ideas are investigated further.

Elizabeth Crone, Collaboration Manager said: ‘Abcam found the workshop with Cambridge University researchers both interesting and useful. The researchers suggested new ideas for some challenging areas of research and development, including photo-activation methods and better prediction of great antibody binders, and we benefited from having multiple research areas represented in the room. We found this format a useful way to develop connections with Cambridge University, and look forward to future collaborations.’

The majority of forums end the day with a number of interesting ideas that the organisation and researchers can take forward together. If your company or organisation is interested in working with us on a future Industry Engagement Forum, please contact Amy Weatherup, co-ordinator of the Industry Engagement Forums and Visiting Industrial Fellow at the Computer Lab.

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