Collaborations with pharmaceutical companies not only facilitate the transition of a scientific discovery from bench to bedside, but as the University of Edinburgh’s Dr Veronique Miron discovered, can also contribute to career development as a researcher.
Veronique is a translational research leader in the field of central nervous system regeneration. Her team focuses on identifying new therapeutic targets for neurological diseases in which the insulation surrounding nerve fibres, termed myelin, is damaged – causing nerve dysfunction and problems with movement, sensation and intellect.
Such disorders include multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, for which there are no approved treatments to repair the damaged myelin. By taking an unconventional route of harnessing the regenerative properties of immune cells, Veronique’s work has attracted the interest of several pharmaceutical companies looking to meet the therapeutic need for regenerative drugs for neurodegenerative disease.
Working with pharma from the start
Her collaborative journey began when Veronique was a PhD student at McGill University in Canada, where she discovered the regenerative impact of a drug made by Novartis, which was originally aimed at the immune system.
Working with Novartis led to numerous impactful first and co-author publications, allowed Veronique to garner interest in her work at international conferences, and created long-standing networks within both industry and academia.
To the UK, Biogen and MRC award
Moving to the UK to carry out a postdoctoral fellowship, Veronique had the opportunity to develop a project with Biogen to identify regenerative factors released by immune cells within the central nervous system.
Forging this relationship not only led to development of new protocols to isolate and sequence small numbers of immune cells from the injured brain, but also provided funding to bridge her salary between her postdoctoral position and first faculty position. The funds gave Veronique the opportunity to generate the key preliminary data needed to land a prestigious Career Development Award from the MRC, through which she launched her independent research programme.
Having established her group, Veronique then liaised with GSK through a joint PhD studentship to investigate what regulates the transition from a potentially damaging central nervous system immune cell to a regenerative one. Veronique and the team discovered that death of immune cells is a surprising but important pathway for therapeutic targeting. In addition, through this collaboration, the student involved was able to engage with GSK researchers and generate a high impact first author publication, which led to a national prize for best paper on neurodegeneration.
By then setting up novel models and platforms for drug testing, Veronique subsequently attracted consultancy contracts which helped bridge salaries for research assistants, allowing the group to maintain its momentum.
Mentor and adviser
These interactions with the pharmaceutical industry have not only facilitated the translatability of the lab’s research, but have also contributed to Veronique’s continued development as a leader and mentor. She advises major funders and pharmaceutical companies on strategic direction in neuro-immunology, and leverages her networks to support trainees interested in transitioning to industry.
Interaction with pharmaceutical companies has been an integral part of Veronique’s research success, and importantly has led to target discoveries that may lead to new drug development for neurological disease.
Discover more about the University of Edinburgh’s therapeutic discovery capability at Bench to Bedside — Edinburgh Innovations