Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different ways to partner with industry?

Pitt faculty can work with industry via different mechanisms, the most common being corporate research agreements, clinical trial agreements, fee-for-service agreements, and material transfer agreements. The scope of research activities conducted under these agreements varies widely, and can include basic research, pre-clinical work, engineering studies, and clinical trials.

  • Corporate research agreements (CRAs) are utilized when a company provides funding to support a specific non-clinical research project at Pitt. CRAs can support highly collaborative research programs in which the company and university work together to achieve the aims of the project.
  • Clinical trial agreements (CTAs) are utilized for human subject clinical trials. Depending on the structure of the trial, corporate-funded clinical trials may be contracted via Pitt’s Office of Sponsored Programs, or UPMC OSPARS.
  • Fee-for-service work is client-initiated and can be provided to external for-profit as well as not-for-profit clients for the benefit of the private and public sectors. Services, use of equipment or labs, products, and evaluation/assessment/training, are the major categories of fee-for-service work.
  • Material transfer agreements (MTAs) facilitate the acquisition of various biological and research materials, and occasionally, data, developed by nonprofit, government and private industry.

Please visit the Office of Sponsored Programs Clinical & Corporate Contract Services for more information about these different contracting vehicles.

How much funding is provided in a Corporate Research Agreement (CRA)?

The amount of funding provided under a CRA is dependent on the agreed upon scope of work. Every CRA is different. Smaller projects may have budgets of $100,000 or less, while complex, multi-year collaborations may bring costs of more than $1 million. CRAs are generally structured as "cost reimbursable" and should include detailed budgets. Budget negotiation is conducted by the PI/PI's department and should include the University's Facility and Administrative Rate (also known as indirect cost rate) for Industrial and Commercial Grants and Contracts applied on a Modified Total Direct Cost (MTDC) basis.

How do I find an industry partner for my research?

Industry collaborations usually originate in one of four ways:

  1. Faculty connections with industry -- Many CRAs develop from direct interactions faculty have with members of industry. Such interactions may be rooted in existing relationships, or develop when a company is looking for expertise in a certain area and contacts a faculty member to discuss collaborating. OIEP’s Industry Partnering Team can help advance these scientific discussions to project scoping and contracting, acting as a facilitator to both the company and the PI throughout the process.
  2. OIEP’s connections with industry -- Pitt’s Office of Industry and Economic Partnerships builds and maintains relationships with companies that have research interests aligned to the University. OIEP works with these companies to understand their interests and bring opportunities to faculty for consideration. OIEP also works with faculty to identify and connect with companies around specific research programs for which partnering can help advance technology towards commercialization.
  3. Targeted RFPs from Pitt’s industry partners -- An increasing number of Pitt’s industry partners work with OIEP to put out an open request for proposals which is aligned to the partner’s research interest (e.g. particular therapeutic areas). Initial applications usually involve a short, non-confidential research plan and bio sketch. The OIEP Industry Partnerships Team works with faculty to ensure proposals are aligned to the goals of the corporate partner.
  4. Publicly available industry RFPs -- An increasing number of companies publish publicly available RFPs which are open to researchers from any institution. These RFPs typically target very specific research questions or technologies available for further development and licensing. OIEP maintains a listing of industry-generated funding opportunities and consult with faculty of crafting industry-oriented proposals for these programs.
Am I allowed to publish industry-sponsored work?

Yes. Pitt’s policies regarding Openness in Research require that publication rights are retained, regardless of sponsor. A short review period may be provided to facilitate assessment of whether the publication discloses new intellectual property which needs to be protected.

What are the benefits of collaborating with industry on a research project?

Industry collaborations are always aimed at fulfilling Pitt’s mission of engaging in “Research of Impact.” Combining your expertise and resources with those of a partner can fuel a synergistic acceleration of innovation that may not otherwise be possible. Through industry research collaborations, Pitt faculty can bring their innovations, and/or those of the company, closer to societal impact in ways that also provide financial and academic benefits.

What are the potential downsides of engaging in corporate-sponsored research?

Corporate research agreements are typically structured around specific scopes or work with milestone-based objectives and associated payment schedules. Thus, CRAs are not well-suited when a flexible arrangement is desired. As an industry-sponsored research project progresses, research plans may need to be adjusted based on outcomes. In some cases, if milestones are not met, sponsors may have the right to withdraw from the project resulting in loss of funding. It is important to foster a good relationship with the industry partner which is rooted in trust and transparency as the work progresses. An attitude of ensuring there are “no surprises” is helpful to building this trust. Pitt’s OIEP Industry Partnering Team assists faculty with this relationship management, and in some cases assumes a formal alliance management role to ensure success of the relationship.

Another consideration regarding corporate partnering is related to intellectual property. Most corporate research agreements provide the industry partner with some rights to negotiate a license to intellectual property arising from the research. While this is typically not problematic, if you are contemplating starting a company around your research and IP being generated during the collaboration is potentially involved, you should consult with Pitt’s Innovation Institute before entering advanced discussions with a potential partner.

Why are companies interested in funding research at Pitt?

Companies come to the University of Pittsburgh to help advance science of mutual interest including basic, pre-clinical, and translational efforts. Companies appreciate that Pitt faculty offer expertise, and that the University contains specialized resources (e.g. advanced laboratories, clinical data, and tissue banks) that they may not have within their own organizations. By partnering, companies can advance their research interests while simultaneously securing intellectual property rights for commercialization purposes.

What kind of projects do companies fund?

Every company has different interests. Pharmaceutical and biotech companies may partner with the University across the entire development cycle, including fundamental research and discovery, lead optimization, clinical trials, and real-world outcomes studies. Engineering and materials companies will work with Pitt on modeling, characterization, and developing specific applications based on novel technologies. Medical device companies may look to develop new monitoring algorithms or evaluate advanced biomaterials for incorporation into their products.

Who at Pitt helps me navigate the process of partnering with industry?

Industry partnering is a multidisciplinary effort supported by the offices of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Research. Pitt’s Office of Industry and Economic Partnerships serves faculty as a primary point-of-contact related to industry-sponsored research, helping coordinate the activities required to bring an industry partnership to fruition.

The following Pitt Research offices work together hand-in-hand to develop and support industry-sponsored research opportunities:

  • The Office of Industry and Economic Partnerships (OIEP) provides Pitt faculty with end-to-end support of their industry research partnerships. OIEP engages in business development and alliance management activities, helping source and develops new research opportunities, assist in project planning, and managing the ongoing partner relationship to ensure success of the collaboration.
  • The Office of Sponsored Programs Clinical and Corporate Contract Team is responsible for the review and negotiation of agreements related to industry-sponsored research. OSP coordinates their contracting efforts with the Innovation Institute on IP-related matters, and works with OIEP’s Industry Partnering Team to ensure integration with business development and alliance management efforts.
  • The Innovation Institute, part of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, ensures that intellectual property utilized or originating during industry-sponsored research is protected. The licensing team reviews all intellectual property matters and negotiates related terms for corporate research agreements.
Can the research funding be structured as a gift instead of a CRA?

While gifts may be appealing to an outside funder from a financial standpoint, they do not provide the funder with any ability to direct the research, monitor outcomes, or secure resulting intellectual property. Thus, most industry research collaborations are contracted as a sponsored program (CRA or CTA). Pitt’s Office of Sponsored Programs provides additional guidance on gifts versus sponsored projects here.