Innogen · Research · Current projects
Public-Private Collaboration in Genomics and Biotechnology

Theo Papaioannou

Principal investigator(s):   David Wield

Affiliated staff:   Joyce Tait   Joanna Chataway

Funding: ESRC Innogen Centre

July 30 2005 – September 30 2007


The shift from synthetic or fine chemistry to micro-biology and the subsequent revolution of genomics and biotechnology constitutes a possible major driver of change in health industries.

The most important characteristic of this new paradigm of technological change and innovation in life sciences is the close collaboration between all public and private actors involved.

This project began in August 2005 with the aim to explore the complex public-private relationships in genomics and biotechnology in the UK in order to reveal their role in building firm-based and policy-making capabilities. The focus is on regional innovation.

The project examines the links between innovation policy bodies, life sciences research institutes, dedicated biotechnology firms and venture capital organisations from the standpoint of regional development.

Aims and objectives

  • What are the nature and characteristics of public-private collaboration in genomics and biotechnology in regions such as Scotland, Cambridge, Oxford and London?
  • Whether specific types of public-private collaboration result in building specific firm-based and policy-making capabilities?
  • What is the relationship between building innovative capabilities in genomics and biotechnology and regional development?

Research methods

  • Documentary analysis (academic journal articles, policy documents, company websites and press articles).
  • In-depth interviews with a range of relevant public and private actors, including managers and industry stakeholders in dedicated biotechnology firms and policy makers in regional development agencies.
  • Comparison of the Scottish situation, already being researched, with that in Cambridge i.e. a major UK regional agglomeration.

Key findings

Public-private collaborations for biotech innovation in Cambridge and Scotland are historically founded upon social and political attempts to address the problem of division between direct production and academia.

This resulted in the development of two distinct systems of innovation: in Cambridge, due to geographical, organisational and technological proximities, the university’s liberal culture and the role of individuals in networking, the system was constructed from the bottom-up; in Scotland, due to specific economic, social, cultural and even political conditions, the system was constructed from the top-down.

Given their distinct systems of innovation, the two regions sustain different types of public-private collaborations in genomics and biotechnology. In Scotland the bio-cluster is based on formal public-private collaborative networks which are supported by Scottish Enterprise.

By contrast, in Cambridge the bottom up model of innovation allows the establishment of more informal public-private networks and collaborations. Despite their differences, both regions have at the very centre of their bio-clusters universities of great academic and research reputation. This implies generation of positive externalities namely ‘knowledge spillovers’ and skilled graduates.

Through complex public-private collaborations, regional firms build learning capabilities in different areas of interest:

  • intellectual property and project management
  • human resources
  • commercialization
  • marketing
  • media representation

By contrast, regional policy organizations build significant policy-making capabilities:

  • Balancing research and commercial interest
  • Learning and understanding of private firms
  • Flexibility and fast response to constantly changing conditions

Despite the building of innovative capabilities, public-private collaborations in genomics and biotechnology clearly fail to resolve the problem of managerial skills at the regional level.

Our empirical research suggests that in both Cambridge and Scotland there is a serious shortage of managerial skills.


Papaioannou, T., Wield, D. and Chataway, J. (forthcoming, 2009) ‘Knowledge Ecologies and Ecosystems? An Empirically Grounded Reflection on Recent Developments in Innovation Systems Theory’, Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy.

Papaioannou, T. (forthcoming, 2008) ‘Human Gene Patents and the Question of Liberal Morality’, Genomics, Society and Policy.

Tait, J., Papaioannou, T., Mittra, J., Haddow, G. and Rosiello, A. (2008) ‘Evidence Prepared on Behalf of the ESRC Centre for Social and Economic Research on Innovation in Genomics’, House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, Sub-committee on Genomic Medicine, Available at:

Papaioannou, T. (2007) ‘Regional Innovation and Public Policy’, Policy Paper 1, Available at:

Papaioannou, T. (2007) ‘Building Innovative Capabilities through Public-Private Collaboration in Genomics and Biotechnology’, Policy Paper 2,

Papaioannou, T. (2006) ‘Public-Private Collaboration in Genomics and Biotechnology: the Cases of Cambridge and Scotland’, IKD Working Paper No’ 21, Available at: IKD: Innovation, Knowledge and Development - Working Papers