Nature Biotechnology | Trade Secrets

The State of Translational Research

report imageThe blog post title above is also the title of a report by Sigma-Aldrich (published with partners AAAS and Science). The report is based on 608 survey respondents, 45% of which were in the US; 23% of respondents were graduate students. It’s not so long, as reports go, and you might easily read it on the bus or while eating lunch. I’ll give you a few nuggets from the report here to whet your appetite.

When asked about their barriers to progressing their research, 62% of respondents named insufficient funding, with inappropriate duration of grants and insufficient scope of grants coming next, both with 18%. Twenty-two percent of responders said their funding for translational research decreased over the past 12 months (17% said it increased). Also, the majority of respondents (62%) said that collaboration with their business school would benefit their research groups, but only 13% are actually collaborating.

That last bit of information Pat Sullivan found shocking. He’s the former liaison for academic partnerships at Pfizer and now works for Sigma-Aldrich. He thinks there is an opportunity for pharma to help educate universities on how to best fill the voids in research left by pharma cutbacks.

I asked him for further thoughts on the report, and he supplied this:

Through aggressive downsizing, Pharma has reduced its capacity to identify new commercially viable therapeutic disease targets and new drug candidates. These reduced capabilities have driven Large Pharma to seek out new partnerships with academic researchers working in the translational research fields. However, in order to take full advantage of this new opportunity, academic researchers and institutions will need to conduct their research programs in a new way. In fact, they will have to model and conduct their translational research programs after the processes and workflows currently being used in Large Pharma. This will require the translational researcher to work on interdisciplinary scientific teams and with non-scientific departments like their Business and Law schools. Institutions that set up their programs to promote collaborations across departments will learn how to leverage their scientific discoveries into commercial opportunities. They will also learn how to choose external partners to help them to generate quality data and obtain key reagents needed to attract Pharma collaborations and funding. Institutions and Funding agencies will also have to support Principal Investigators seeking to work in the translational research field by recognizing contributions beyond just publishing.  

Eventually, institutions that conduct translational research will learn to focus their programs on the drug development process that will be the most efficient for them to execute and add the most value to Large Pharma. In most cases, they will focus their programs on the early drug development phases involving new disease target validation and lead chemistry discovery. If the translational research program focuses on an orphan disease, it will be required to work with several external partners to conduct preclinical and clinical activities and obtain manufacturing capabilities.  

Thoughts? You can access the report at the link below.

Enjoy your lunch,

Brady Huggett


Translational Research report





  1. Report this comment

    Mariana Aris said:

    Nice survey, easy to read! It highlights research & reproducibility standards, networking & funding as main issues in translational research. Reading Pat Sullivan’s comment I was wondering how networking & funding from private donors can be encouraged. For instance, specific public funding programs that promote private invest. I think that it’s essential the presence of interdisciplinary platforms, with professionals from academia, industry and business; that would allow evaluation of translational projects and to bring closer all concerned parties. And from the survey you can read that this need is really required to be fulfilled, at least from researchers.

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    Celine Cammarata said:

    I find the idea of working with business and law schools very interesting and enticing, not only for labs focussing on translational research but more broadly as well. For one thing, you never know what basic research might have hidden potential for translation; for another, as a graduate student, and knowing that myself and many of my peers are interested in careers away from the bench, it would be extremely helpful to learn from such collaborations early on.

    Celine Cammarata,
    Director of Content Strategy and Marketing,

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    Suleman Ali said:

    I think we’re still transitioning to an open innovation model. That means we’ve not worked out how to properly interlink different organisations to work together in research, share the IP and financial rewards etc. It needs pharma and perhaps government to fill the gap and develop the new ecosystem.