KOL perspectives: Professor Tom Phillips

Rebecca Aris interviews Professor Tom Phillips

Western University of Health Sciences

Professor Tom Phillips of the Western University of Health Sciences shares his thoughts on how the pharmaceutical industry and KOLs can work together successfully.

In this new series we seek to hear KOL’s perspectives on how they think they could best work with the pharma industry.

In this first in the series, we interview Professor Tom Phillips, of the Western University of Health Sciences, on the challenges that he sees to working with pharma. Over the years, Professor Phillips has held multiple NIH grants, and worked with many large and small pharma companies as both a consultant and grant recipient.

He shares his thoughts on the challenges associated with working with the industry, how he thinks pharma and KOLs can successfully work together and what a KOL is seeking from the relationship.

Interview summary

RA: Tom, thank you for agreeing to this interview, could you please start by explaining your background and current focus?

TP: I received my veterinary degree from the University of Missouri Columbia and was in a small animal practice for 4 years. I then returned to a graduate program and received my M.S. in Immunology and Ph.D. in Virology both from the University of Wisconsin- Madison.

I then went to The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and did a postdoctoral fellowship in Molecular Virology and stayed on at TSRI as principle investigator for nine years.

Later I cofounded the Vaccine Research Institute of San Diego, serving for three years as the Chairman of the Board and Chief Operations Officer.

In 2003, when Western University of Health Sciences opened their College of Veterinary Medicine, I joined the faculty of the new college as a professor and later served as Associate Dean for Research. Currently, I am a tenured professor of the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences, Western University of Health of Health Sciences, and am the Chair of the Intellectual Property Committee.

RA: What do you see to be the key challenges of working with the pharma industry?

TP: In no specific order:-

1) Working with Industry may taint or give the appearance of tainted scientific objectivity of the KOL. Personal compensation, stock or options, speaking fees, officer, paid consultant, student support or project funding a project can all lead to personal gain. They can interfere with scientific objective or the appearance thereof.

2) Poorly defined scope of work leading to poorly defined expectations.

3) The scope of work can creep and expand.

4) Loss of interest by investigator can lead to delayed or incomplete projects.

5) Distinctions between product performance from product development – industry develops and academia characterizes to avoid patent squabbles

6) Basic science vs. specific information for development.

7) Research conducted on a more relaxed schedule in academia.

8 ) Accepting industry funds may risk grant funding.

9) Freedom to exchange information, publish, speak, discuss – vs. intellectual property.

10) Ability to present positive and negative findings.

11) Confidentiality agreements.

12) KOLs main goal is to publish papers (not make profit).

13) Data interpretation differences.


“Working with Industry may taint or give the appearance of tainted scientific objectivity of the KOL…”


RA: From your perspective, what is the best practice for interacting with KOLs?


1. Get to know your collaborator both socially and professionally.

2. Clearly discuss the potential areas that may be a problem with the collaboration up front, such as:-

• Publication timing.

• Authors and positions.

• Publishing negative results.

• IP

3. Obtain appropriate agreements:

• Material Transfer Agreements.

• Memorandum of Understanding.

• Confidentiality Agreements.

4. Develop a scope of work document, including:

• Overall project goal.

• Specific aims.

• Approaches for each aim.

• Timeline.

• Budget.

5. Ensure honest and clear bidirectional communication:

• Openly discuss pressures from the company side.

• Honest discussion of scientific difficulties.

• Encourage honest discussion of non-scientific difficulties.

o Student Classes.

o Tech illness.

o Competing projects.

6. Build an ongoing relationship, discuss future funding based on success of present project.

7. Scheduled a regular time to meet or discuss data.

8. Keep time goals realistic – I’d suggest best estimate and add 50% more!

9. Speak to the entire laboratory group with emphasis on:

• Importance of the project.

• Confidentiality.

• Importance of laboratory notebooks.

RA: What are the benefits to KOLs want when working with the industry and what do you think they want from the relationship?


• Additional source of research funding.

• Since NIH and the government are funding fewer projects, there is a greater need for alternative sources of funding to support the KOL’s laboratory.

• Publications.

• Working on cutting edge products.

• Contributing information toward a potential tangible product with health benefits.

• Collaborating with creative and stimulating industry scientists.


“The best solution to creating a relationship that works for all is communication, trust, and if possible friendship.”


RA: How can engagement issues be monitored?

TP: With regular scheduled time to meet or discuss data, open communication and scheduled written reports.

RA: What do you think the best solution is to create a relationship that works for all?

TP: The best solution to creating a relationship that works for all is communication, trust, and if possible friendship.

RA: What do you think the future of KOL / industry relationships look like?

TP: The future of the KOL relationship will be a long-lasting relationship that is built upon success. I’d suggest starting small and increasing funds as trust and confidence in each other builds.

The next interview in this series will be published in November.




About the interviewee:

Dr. Tom Phillips was raised in Green Bay Wisconsin, and as a result is an avid Packer fan. His outside interests include AKC dog obedience trials, woodworking, fine dining, travel, cinema, reading, creative writing, working out, live music, and getting together with family and friends.

Although Dr. Phillips has had a very interesting and productive research career, he greatly missed teaching and giving back to the veterinary community. Coming to Western University, has allowed Dr. Phillips to fulfill a life-long ambition: To touch the future of veterinary medicine through teaching.

What do you think the future of KOL / industry relationships look like?