Monday, May 2, 2011

Purpose and Partners: Yielding Return on Medical Research Investments

by Kristin Schneeman, Program Director, FasterCures

A Global Conference panel of experienced funders, innovators, and analysts described first-hand the growing “Valley of Death” in funding the early stages of research and development of new treatments, explained the novel approaches they are taking to bridge the gap, and called for a complete rethinking of the financial models for funding medical research.

Ali Andalibi of the Small Business Innovation and Research grant program at the National Cancer Institute, Stephen Seiler, CEO of biotech company AesRx (which has benefited from a novel translational research funding program at NIH), and Lt. Col. Daniel Wattendorf of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) all represented efforts by the federal government to move beyond its historical role of funding basic discovery, to help push discoveries down the field toward becoming products in the marketplace. Catherine Arnold of Credit Suisse provided the viewpoint of the investment community, which is increasingly risk-averse and unwilling to invest in life sciences companies before the later stages of research.

DARPA is often cited as a role model for how government should fund research. Wattendorf ascribed this to DARPA’s “goal-orientation” rather than interest in contributing to scientific knowledge, its flat management structure and the complete authority of its program directors to control funding. Other panelists commented on the need for NIH to “take some DNA from DARPA.” DARPA is also teaming with FDA to look at regulatory science and whether there are ways to fundamentally change the development pathway that will accelerate progress.

Chris Elias of PATH, a public-private partnership to develop global health technologies, talked about what the global health field is learning about the Valley of Death: philanthropy and government capital can leverage company interest, particularly if it advances their platforms; and there is a significant role for nonprofits to invest in enabling platforms and to create standards to remove stumbling blocks for all parties.

Seiler pronounced the traditional biotechnology development model dead, noting that by 2009-2010 almost no preclinical research was being funded by the public markets. “We aren’t going to go back to the good old days, so what does the new model look like?” He also noted that what’s needed now is not just more sources of funding but “other management modalities – not just is this good science, but does the management know how to get there? This hasn’t been required before, we need to build those skills.”

Watch a video of the session.

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