Pharma, BioPharma

#BIO2015: Improving basic science research with a translational model

A new Battelle report examines new trends in translational science among academia-industry collaboration, and the impact it has on basic science research.

The biopharma industry has a growing reliance on academia – leading to a changing model of translational research that begins at a basic science level, a new report says.

“There are ways that industry can more effectively be using its dollars to help shape basic and applied research,” said Mitch Horowitz, vice president and managing director of Battelle Technology Partnership Practice – and author of the report.

After all, there’s an enduring need for basic science research, according to Ofra Weinberger, director of health sciences at Columbia Technology Ventures. She spoke on a translational research panel at this week’s BIO convention in Philadelphia.

“We still need basic science – actually more than ever before, in this new era of precision medicine,” Weinberger said. “It’s going to be an iterative process of investigation and research to understand the mechanisms of disease – without which we won’t have success in developing new drugs and treatments.”

Battelle, in collaboration with BIO, put together what it calls the first-ever deep dive into current industry-academic collaborations. The report measured industry-academic collaboration on four developmental stages – basic and applied research, tech development, clinical trials and new product launch. Here’s what it said about basic science research:

As of 2013, industry funded just over 5 percent of all biomedical research at universities – to the tune of $1.73 billion. Despite the relative costs of, say, bringing a drug to market ($2.6 billion?), Horowitz said this figure is actually fairly respectable, given the financial pressures that big biopharma is facing. Biomedical research accounts for nearly half of all industry-funded academic research.

Indeed, in basic research the number of industry-academic publications has grown 23 percent over the past decade. Of course, this invites suggestions of conflicts of interest – but NIH funding is shrinking. There’s pressure to keep academic tuition from increasing. With alternative funding sources drying up, these industry-academia partnerships are going to be critical in keeping even basic science research flowing.

The report cites the following fields as most lucrative for industry-academia collaboration:

Multi-institutional and multi-company collaborations are one way to grow the basic science arm of the translational research model. The report also points out a rise in open innovation models – and how they allow academic researchers wider access to research tools and industry funding.

Notably, your nontraditional states are the ones getting higher rates of industry funding in the biosciences:

Of course, basic science is just the first step in a lengthy process to get a product approved, as pointed out by Craig Wegner, executive director of AstraZeneca’s translational science emerging innovations unit, who spoke on the BIO panel.

“Basic science is no longer enough – you need that network of partnerships to get ahead,” Wegner said.