Tuesday, September 1, 2015

“There is an urgent need for an expanded, rigorous, and focused research agenda in food and nutrition that is driven by increased awareness that food, nutrition, and human health are closely linked through complex interactions and a recognition that associated costs contribute substantially to rising national health care costs.(1)”

Apples on a ScaleIn December 2014, a working meeting to reach consensus on principles that would govern food and nutrition research public-private partnerships (PPP) was held. A number of food- and nutrition-focused nonprofit organizations and government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, were represented. PPPs are transparent and inclusive partnerships funded and operated through combined efforts on behalf of academia, industry, and government. Nonprofit organizations may also be involved in PPPs. PPPs can help to facilitate food and nutrition research through shared resources and ideas during a period of shrinking budgets. This meeting was fueled by the lack of knowledge of the understanding of the role of nutrition and food in chronic disease management and public health impacts and implications. The idea of PPPs is not a new concept, but until recently, more specific information on managing and operating PPPs was not readily available in the public domain.

The International Life Sciences Institute’s North America branch published a list of governing principles for PPPs that were made available to the public in 2013. Using these guidelines, attendees of the December 2014 working meeting determined which conditions need to be met to define a successful PPP. The resulting 12 principles have been modified from the previously published guidelines to further ensure integrity in the conduct of food and nutrition research collaboration among public, nonprofit, and private sectors. The principles can be found in the “Achieving a transparent actionable framework for public-private partnership for food and nutrition research” article, which was published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1). Highlighted at a June 2015 unveiling of the principles for PPPs in food and nutrition research was the need for new approaches to maximize the current understanding of the role of food and health in chronic disease management and ultimately prevention, including the best way to translate the research and information into public policy and dietary interventions that support the health of our nation. Thus, the importance of PPPs for food and nutrition research is necessary to answer critical research questions and progress these fields of study and therefore public health.

The principles provide necessary guidance to help operate and manage PPPs. As with many partnerships, things do not always go as smoothly as planned, and there are advantages and disadvantages to PPPs. It is likely that all parties involved may not agree on everything, but before a PPP is started, you must ensure that all parties have stakes and interests in the PPP to guarantee full commitment by each party. Real conflicts of interest may occur, so full disclosure up front is imperative. Transparent communication with the partners and public is important and should not be biased or influenced by partners. Disadvantages to any partnership include the risk that disagreements may occur; the fact that all parties must be liable for actions among all members; and the risk of unclear authority, including any vagueness of roles, duties, and responsibilities. In addition, an unforeseen exit by partners could be costly for the partnership, which is why detailed plans of an exit strategy should be considered. PPPs can also be subject to conflicts of interest, and bias may occur when multiple parties with vested research interests are involved. It is critical that there be guidelines in place to ensure integrity in the conduct of food and nutrition research collaborations with the public and private sectors. The benefits of such a partnership include shared knowledge and expertise, funding and resources, and support systems.

There are still questions to be considered, such as the following:

  • How do you define a clear and achievable goal to improve public health? For some organizations, public benefit may not necessarily translate into public health benefit.
  • How do you decide which research question(s) to pursue?

These guidelines are by no means perfect and are not “cookie cutter” in nature. These guidelines serve as a framework for PPPs and may need to be tailored for any specific partnership. The guidelines that ensure success for one partnership might not work best for all partnerships.

In conclusion, the frameworks for developing PPPs serve no one if they remain only words on a page. We as a scientific community need to encourage each other to use the proposed guidelines to begin to facilitate and develop PPPs to tackle some of the public health challenges that we are facing as a nation. We have the potential to make monumental impacts on the trajectory of food and nutrition research and the health of our nation. We encourage industry, government, academia, and nongovernment organizations to use the principles and begin to create PPPs to help accelerate food and nutrition research.


  1. Alexander N, Rowe S, Brackett RE, Burton-Freeman B, Hentges EJ, Kretser A, et al. Achieving a transparent actionable framework for public-private partnerships for food and nutrition research. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015;101:1359–1363.

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