On the way towards a roadmap for research-intensive innovation

The Centre for Digital Life Norway is in the process of developing a roadmap for academic research-intensive innovation. The last year the centre has worked on describing the current status of the innovation system for digital life sciences in Norway. Based on the findings, we have identified six domains to follow up in a 4-year action plan.

Scientist in lab

The ambitious goal of Centre for Digital Life Norway is to transform Norwegian biotechnology research. The centre wants to stimulate to value creation from digital biotechnology. Last year the centre was granted NOK 30 million from the Research Council of Norway to run the 5-year innovation project “A roadmap for academic research-intensive innovation”.

Will design and initiate a change process

The objective of the innovation project is to design and initiate a change process in Norwegian universities and research institutions, with the aim to gradually increase the innovation mindset and culture among the researchers, and through that contribute to increased translation and valorisation of research findings into products or services of societal and economic value.

Description of status – AS IS – first…

In the first phase of the project, the goal has been to understand the situation in the digital life science and biotechnology sector in Norway – the strengths and weaknesses – when going from research to innovation. Last year the centre hired the international consultancy company Technopolis Group to help describe the current  “AS IS” situation for the Norwegian research and innovation landscape in which the centre operates. Their study is based on interviews with different actors and literature studies, and is both descriptive and diagnostic with regard to what works and not in the system.

…then plans for a desired future situation – TO BE

Based on the AS IS study, the innovation team in the centre has identified six domains to follow up: Research capacity, transdisciplinarity and convergence; Innovation culture in academia; Public and private funding; Idea producer–idea user links; Innovation ecosystems; and Innovation support and commercialisation. See more details on each domain at the bottom of the article.

The domains address weaknesses and challenges in the Norwegian system that the project will seek solutions to. We will look at similar initiatives and organisations as the Centre for Digital Life Norway in others countries to identify lessons learnt and new innovative ways of working for us to build upon. The findings will be turned into a strategy and an action plan for the next four years with activities aiming to accelerate innovation in the digital life sciences. 

– Their study from a systems point of view is new

– What is rather unique with this work is the collection in one study of the multiple challenges that ideas originating in an academic research project face in their path to become a service, a product or a method that benefits society at large. Probably the points we identified are not new, but their study from a systems point of view is new. Dependencies matter for a successful redesigning of academic innovation, says professor Arnoldo Frigessi at the University of Oslo (UiO).

Frigessi is in charge of the innovation project and is working on the project with the coordinators for innovation and industry collaboration in the centre, Alexandra Patriksson and Beate Rygg Johnsen at the UiO.

Arnoldo Frigessi, Alexandra Patriksson og Bate Rygg Johnsen
Arnoldo Frigessi, Alexandra Patriksson and Beate Rygg Johnsen, all UiO.

– As a researcher doing research-based innovation myself, I have seen in person many of the bottlenecks. For me it was surprising to see how general these problems are, and how deep their roots are in our academic world. I know that researchers, young researchers especially, want to have an impact in society. To write a brilliant paper and then hope that your idea will be picked up by someone else and developed to be the thing you hoped, does not work. I think researchers want to honour their responsibility more deeply, Frigessi adds.

The road ahead

In the second phase of the innovation roadmap project, starting in August 2021, the centre will implement the action plan. This will include pilot activities with the 35 transdisciplinary biotechnology projects in the centre. Successful pilots will be implemented in the ordinary plans of the centre. 

The six domains and main findings in the study

Illustration the six domains
Research capacity, transdisciplinarity and convergence
- Insufficient digital skills, data infrastructure in the life sciences
- Failure to exploit Norway’s almost unique health-related databases
- Insufficient cross-disciplinary structures to connect the digital with the life sciences

I​​nnovation culture in academia
- Researchers’ interests and incentives may not value innovation enough
- Leadership and organisational structure do not support applied research enough
- Limited education and staff training in innovation and commercialisation

Public and private funding 
- Lack of applied and use-oriented funding in early research phases
- Funding streams fail to support all development steps in an innovation project
- Very limited private (and public) funding with sector knowledge and high risk-profile

Idea producer–idea user links
- Mutual lack of understanding of capabilities and needs between academia and industry
- Lack of tradition for collaboration, co-creation and co-localisation 
- The research agenda is rarely designed with the demand side in mind

Innovation ecosystems
- Poor connection to a poorly defined innovation ecosystem
- Ecosystems lack key players such as regulatory authorities and business development
- Regulatory and IPR strategies in digital biotech are not well resolved 

Innovation support and commercialisation
- Technology transfer is the chosen way to valorise research – other routes are not supported
- Technology transfer offices (TTOs) tend to maximise returns over building sustainable value
- Academic human resource policies unfavour double roles as researchers and innovators
By Norunn K. Torheim based on Frigessi's presentation at board meeting December 2020
Published Dec. 15, 2020 1:57 PM - Last modified Dec. 18, 2020 10:01 AM