In an article appearing in the European Journal of Cancer (Eur J Cancer. 2013 Jan;49(1):1-7), the EORTC’s Denis Lacombe, Susen Burock, and Françoise Meunier discuss the urgent need to develop new models of partnership between academia and industry for early-stage cancer clinical research. Much progress has been made in unraveling the molecular mechanisms and pathways of cancer, and this has inevitably led to the incorporation of translational medicine into the design of clinical trials. Consequently, the skills of various stakeholders are needed to conduct these trials, and these skills would need to be assembled in the context of a new model of collaboration between industry and academia, a model built on solid principles of cooperation where all partners can contribute their particular expertise as necessary. Such optimized early-drug clinical trials emerging from efficient partnerships could serve as stepping stones to biologically driven late stage trials, avoid many current pitfalls, and reduce the high attrition rate of prospective drugs. However, in order to realize this, an ‘honest broker’ is highly recommended to ensure the transparency and sustainability within these partnerships, because these collaborations might lead to an increasing number of ties between the pharmaceutical industry and academic institutions that might jeopardize academic independence. Large international research organizations would be well suited to assume this role and, by means of their working principles and organizational mission, would serve to minimize the impact of individual conflicts of interest.