A leading professor is warning that universities are failing to get a good return on their research and is risking the UK’s place for R&D.

This is according to Professor John Hudson, from the University of Bath’s Department of Economics, who said that this lack of return was also accompanied by “a failure to fully exploit that research to the advantage of the British economy”.

Prof Hudson is making the warning following the publication of his paper: ‘Into the Valley of Death: Research and innovation’ in Drug Discovery Today.

His research examined the interaction between the pharma industry and academia across the UK, US and Europe, and his paper outlines that this co-operation is still far from perfect.

The paper has found that too much valuable research in drug development is lost in a ‘Valley of Death’ - a phase between the completion of basic research and successful innovation - and never reaches market.

However, he does acknowledge that the situation is changing, with the pharma industry becoming much more involved with universities at an early stage of their research.

The paper outlines that a move away from linear models of innovation policy has led the pharma industry to finance and engage with academia at an early stage of research, where traditionally the industry preferred to keep this work in-house.

Prof Hudson said: “Governments are encouraging the pharma industry and universities to work together as they seek to bring basic drug development research to market.”

However, through assessing a number of case studies from across the UK, US and Europe, Prof Hudson found that while changes are taking place, research funders often still operate using older, linear innovation models and don’t consider the commercialisation of outcomes until too late in the process, often when a research project in near to completion.

The paper goes on to state that it “is not obvious” that these changes will improve upon the UK’s universities’ “poor record in exploiting their own research to financial advantage”. In part this is because they do not have the resources to bargain with big pharma on an equal footing. He says that this, in part, because “such exploitation” is contrary to their traditional emphasis on disseminating knowledge as widely and freely as possible.

Professor Hudson said: “Public money is being used not just to promote research per se but also increasingly as a tool of industrial and economic policy to provide the cutting edge products and services which will enable firms to compete in the global economy. This is happening throughout the EU and indeed the USA too.

“But the tool is not finely honed. It is also often the case that the firms ultimately benefitting from the research are foreign-based multinationals and, hence, the boost is to other economies. The UK in particular is failing to fully exploit its world class universities and research to its own economic advantage.”