At first glance, GENERIUM and Skoltech may seem to be diametrically opposite organizations. Skoltech is a university with a strong research component and a training mission, while GENERIUM is a privately owned company with extremely rigid and pragmatic attitudes. Its goals are the development of affordable and effective medicines of biotechnological origin to saturate the market of the Russian Federation / EAEU, and if possible, of certain countries of the far abroad. This means that although GENERIUM employs some scientists, the company is not engaged in basic scientific research. GENERIUM focuses on the search and support of the so-called translational studies, those that in the foreseeable future can be transferred from the lab table to the patient’s bed.
The dialogue and partnership between Skoltech and GENERIUM began several years ago when a GENERIUM employee took part in an open Skoltech seminar, and informal communication with Skoltech professors that followed. Further, the format expanded, as the most productive communication begins informally when it is based on personal sympathy and common scientific interests. Upon a closer acquaintance, the parties realized that along with its strong academic spirit, Skoltech is also about innovation and the search for joint practical solutions.
GENERIUM showed interest in Skoltech’s proposal to form joint examination committees for MSc defenses starting in 2017. This allowed the partner to get a deeper insight into the work of the university’s leading biotechnology laboratories, as well as asses potential hires for the biopharmaceutical company. By now, some Skoltech graduates have already joined GENERIUM staff.
For several years now Skoltech students have their summer immersion at the GENERIUM research center. They live on GENERIUM campus for two months getting immersed in the realities of “how to apply science to the development of a real medicine”, working according to the strict protocols of a pharmaceutical company rather than traditional academic standards. Last year, they were engaged in the development of diagnostic kits based on new CRISPR systems discovered in the course of joint work by scientists from MIT and the laboratory of Konstantin Severinov.
Cooperation portfolio contains examples of research contracts, for example, with the laboratory of Professor Skoltech Timofei Zatsepin for the early development of molecules to treat hereditary diseases based on RNA interference technology.
In this difficult year, when almost every active pharmaceutical company and research organization contributes to the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic, Skoltech students and staff responded to GENERIUM’s offer to participate in the implementation of the diagnostic test system in the healthcare system. The introduction of SARS-CoV-2 detection test developed by GENERIUM in partnership with the Medical and Biological Union into clinical and laboratory practice, should be supported by qualified molecular biologists in the regions. New technology requires training of local specialists. The demand for the test and the geography of Russia necessitated the search for the most qualified personnel. To optimize the test, employees and graduate students of Konstantin Severinov’s lab were involved, and this work formed the basis of the Industrial Immersion of one of the undergraduates.
Alexander Yakushev, Skoltech student: “Biology rarely gives you the opportunity to quickly get a tangible result, especially if you are a graduate student. And in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, I especially want to be useful here and now. Having received letters from Konstantin Severinov and Dmitry Poteryaev, I replied promptly. GENERIUM provided an opportunity to see the practical application of its activities, and also to feel the benefits it brings. During the short time that I have been working with the GENERIUM, I have been able to visit regional hospitals in different parts of the European part of Russia – from Arkhangelsk to Astrakhan, communicate with doctors and laboratory assistants, work with them, help to master a new technology, – this is an invaluable experience for me. For example, in a laboratory in the city of Syktyvkar, about eight hundred tests of COVID-19 are processed per day, and today I am pleased to hear that after our meeting, diagnostics have become more convenient, faster and more efficient. I really hope that my further work will be beneficial, and together we will soon stop this infection.”
The joint vector of GENERIUM and Skoltech activity and, most importantly, the results it gives, stimulate partners to deepen cooperation and broaden the search for new horizons.
Dmitry Poteryaev, Ph.D., Deputy General Director for Science, MBC “Generium” says, “GENERIUM and Skoltech will never be an ‘ideal couple’. They have different tasks. Academic science implies unlimited freedom, low efficiency in the short and medium term, but without it there has never been and will not be a foundation for any applied research, for any new breakthrough technology. This is how it works. At some point, the industry must consider the unopened bud of a new technology or drug and make every effort and apply all the power of industrial translational development to bring it to people, to the market.”
Konstantin Severinov, Dr. Sc., Professor of Skoltech comments, “Our relations with GENERIUM are based, on the one hand, on good personal relationships with Dmitry Poteryaev (which in essence is the best guarantee of their long-term character and success), and, on the other hand, on the desire to provide attractive employment for graduates of the Life Sciences in Russia program. In a pandemic situation, when university laboratories are idle, and the educational process has gone online, many students are looking for their own application, they want to be useful. It is very pleasant that many of them are ready to help, to do the real thing.”
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