Autism Speaks Participates in FasterCures “Crossing the Valley of Death” Forum
As more and more is learned about the biology of autism, the development of novel medicines to treat its core symptoms is no longer just a hope. Therefore Autism Speaks was pleased to be invited to participate in the 5th annual FasterCures-Esquire Leadership Forum, devoted this year to the topic of translational research, that is, how to translate knowledge gained from basic research into products that can provide real healthcare benefits for patients.
FasterCures, a Washington D.C. think tank focused on accelerating medical solutions, is based on the founding principle that saving time saves lives. Since 2005 they have brought together a cross-disciplinary group of innovative thinkers to explore novel approaches that hold the potential to accelerate the search for new treatments and cures for diseases. With representatives of biotechnology, pharmaceutical and patient advocacy organizations in attendance, the theme for this year’s small workshop was to determine action items to achieve innovation in drug development. Attendees agreed that in order for this to happen as fast as possible, there needs to be better integration between all stakeholders – patients, financiers, academic researchers and for-profit companies alike. The meeting participants called for the identification of new business models and research paradigms to achieve this integration.
Full of buzz words such as “open innovation,” “collaboration,” and “entrepreneurship,” the discussions focused on identifying the organizational and cultural barriers that influence the interface between traditional academic research and industry-related drug development. This interface has long been called the “Valley of Death” because of the enormous difficulty in translating research discoveries into viable medical solutions. While the government has begun several initiatives to push biomedical research forward across the Valley of Death, for-profit organizations such as pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are beginning to unite to address the challenges that make it inefficient and, at times, impossible, to carry forward such risky and costly research on their own. Some of the challenges identified at the meeting include the many knowledge gaps that remain in our basic understanding of human biology, the lack of financial incentives to work in some disease areas, and the constraints created by business policies that are meant to provide competitive advantages but instead often hinder progress.
The short meeting highlighted lessons learned from other industries and several new models of collaboration. At its conclusion the participants agreed that streamlining the drug development process will involve not just procedural improvements but much more partnering than has ever been attempted before, including between individual pharmaceutical companies and between pharmaceutical companies and academia. This opens a role for non-profit advocacy organizations such as Autism Speaks in bringing together the many diverse players, each with their own motivations and incentives. Towards this end, Autism Speaks has recently formed a Translational Research Initiative that aims to enhance communication between academic scientists and industry representatives and nurture our renewed hopes for successful translational research in autism and new healthcare solutions.
Read more about translational research from our Chief Science Officer, Dr. Geri Dawson.