Industry Seeks to Stimulate Innovation Through Grant Programs
Pictured: Jar of money / Adobe Stock, juliasudnitskaya
The grant program, launched in 2020 to support research on molecular diagnostics for cancer treatment, is one of several funding initiatives launched by biotech and pharma companies in recent years. Supporting researchers in academia and startups, these initiatives span from forensic sciences to artificial intelligence, reaching values of more than half a million dollars.
Company representatives said their firms are motivated by brand recognition, interaction with experts and societal contribution. Grant recipients often collaborate with the company and use their products; in some cases, turning into long-term partnerships.
What the Researchers Get
Industry grants provide funding for researchers in academia and industry in the form of research supplies or dollars.
In 2019, QIAGEN launched its Young Investigator Awards, which support young forensic investigators with up to $60,000 worth of instruments and reagents from both its brand and Verogen, a long-time partner that QIAGEN acquired in 2023.
Thermo Fisher Scientific supports clinical research teams with up to $200,000 in a combination of reagents from its Oncomine next-generation sequencing solutions and general funding, José Luis Costa, the company's global director of scientific affairs, told BioSpace.
Merck KGaA in Darmstadt, Germany, offers an even more significant sum of money, which is open to academics and startup researchers. Its funding programs, launched in celebration of its 350th anniversary in 2018, focus on diverse fields, including drug discovery, organoids, bioelectronics and artificial intelligence. The winners receive an average of 100,000 to 200,000 € ($110,214 to $220,479) per year over three years, Jan Gerit Brandenburg, head of digital chemistry at Merck KGaA who supports the program in his department, told BioSpace. The use of this money is flexible, he added, noting that it can be allocated to buy equipment or hire researchers.
The first winner of QIAGEN’s Young Investigator Awards, Margreet van den Berge of the Netherlands Forensic Institute, The Hague, at work in the lab. The company funded her research on mRNA profiling to identify body fluids and organ types. / Courtesy of QIAGEN
Return for the Companies
In exchange for financial support for their projects, researchers give back to these companies, according to firm representatives. Brandenburg said these relationships give the company access to new research to inspire new products and services.
Costa noted that because Thermo Fisher’s Oncomine Clinical Research Grant Program targets experts worldwide, it promotes the broader use of precision medicine. The company assesses grant applications using a scoring system that evaluates the implementation of a solution in a developing country at the same level as the scientific question being posed, he explained.
“We, in a way, are balancing and tilting also the democratization of the technology into . . . regions of the globe” where uptake might be considered more challenging, Costa said. And the company is doing so with the “direct involvement and direct influence of the community that [it wants] to serve.”
Brand recognition is thus another motivation for these companies to offer these grants. “We want to be seen as a leader in science and technology for attracting employees,” said Brandenburg, not to mention customers and investors. These programs also help publicize the scope of the company’s work.
Inga Gerárd, global strategic marketing manager at QIAGEN, said via email that the Young Investigator Awards program “has a positive impact on our brand, but it’s so much more than that: We contribute to justice, closure, building a safer society, and we are a real partner against crime.”
Margreet van den Berge of the Netherlands Forensic Institute, The Hague, was the first winner of the grant. Van den Berge’s research on mRNA profiling to identify specific body fluids and organ types is now being used in the field, Gerárd wrote, allowing forensic scientists to identify biological traces at a crime scene.
Moreover, collaborations may continue once the grant period is over, sometimes transforming into long-term partnerships. Brandenburg recounts that some of the first Merck KGaA collaborations within the grant program are still running today.
“So far, we’ve been really happy with the outcomes.”
Alejandra Manjarrez is a freelance science writer based in Mexico City. Reach her on her website.