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Found in Translation: Please allow me to introduce myself

Over the past decade or so there has been an accelerating shift in academic science towards translational research. This move has been quite overt, with the NIH establishing National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) in 2012 with the budget to dole out more than $550M in grant funding each year. This shift in funding and focus is apparent all over the research landscape; during my time at the University of Pennsylvania I spent time in three beautiful new facilities, each one bearing the buzzword “translation”: The Translational Research Laboratory, The Smilow Center for Translational Research, and The Colket Translational Research Building. This emphasis on translational or bench-to-bedside research has left today’s researchers with new, ambitious goals and corresponding obstacles in reaching those goals for their research.

My experience as a neuroscientist and as a technology transfer professional helping researchers working across many fields in biomedical science has provided me with the opportunity to be involved on many different so-called translational projects, each with their own strengths and challenges. In this blog I hope to help define the problems that today’s academic researchers encounter in attempting to produce research that truly translates from the bench to the bedside. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to help map out potential routes that researchers can navigate in taking their research out of the lab and into the clinic. There are many different types of technologies that can and will be translated from a basic science environment to bring to bear a change in the way medicine is practiced. However, for the purposes of focusing this blog I will mainly concern myself with specifically how scientists with deep expertise on a biological target (protein, gene, pathway, cell type) can translate that expertise into an effective human therapeutic without leaving the job they love in the academic research environment. Some things remain the same for diagnostic, device, and veterinary applications of great academic science as well, but there certainly are critical differences.

The process of going from a biological target to an effective therapeutic is long and arduous. The trip of translation from hopeful preliminary data to human proof of concept to a marketed drug follows no well-tread path and the best course depends on many factors besides simply the nature of the technology. Each situation is unique and there is no formula for success. Statistics on the cost of developing a drug vary, but it suffices to say the costs are high and the chance of any one compound, antibody, vaccine or novel approach to modulating a target becoming an effective therapeutic are slim.

However, I’ve never found these high-costs or long odds to cause even the slightest hesitation from a scientist who believes their data shows promise towards the right path for developing a therapeutic. Turning this idealistic hope into an FDA approval is a long road and one that will navigate challenges in many arenas from funding to intellectual property to conflicts of interest to the opportunity to form a new company to finding the right experts and collaborators to help drive the project. I hope this blog will give academic researchers a starting point for how to start thinking about these potential obstacles for their own work and to begin to design a plan to turn each challenge from a mountain to a molehill.

In working with scientists I’ve found that no matter the situation, we all share a common starting belief, that the process works best when we let the science drive the path forward. My personal role in most projects I touch is to help clear that path of roadblocks and make the necessary connections to enable the development of new technologies that have the potential to positively affect human health.

At Partners Innovation, I view my role in translational research, that of technology transfer professional, as a service position, doing everything I can to make it easier on our scientists to accomplish their own translational research goals. Hopefully, my support helps to enable our scientists’ biological understandings in their development into life-changing treatments. If this blog can help even one scientist start to think about the path ahead for their new, exciting, promising translational project I’ll be very grateful.

I’d love to have feedback on my thoughts from anyone reading: let me know where I can add insights and advice, what you want to know more about and what new challenges are out there for us to work through together.

I look forward to hearing from you!