Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lost in translation

Any big pharma CEO or shareholder would love to see a stronger link from basic research to the bottom line. But it’s not something that can be achieved via administrative fiat.

Writing at the WSJ Health Blog, Shirley Wang reports
When former NIH head Elias Zerhouni ran the $30 billion federal research institute, he pushed for so-called translational research in which findings from basic lab research would be used to develop medicines and other applications that would help patients directly.

Now the head of R&D at French drug maker Sanofi, Zerhouni says that such “bench to bedside” research is more difficult than he thought.
When Dr. Zerhouni tried to make Sanofi more like a nimble small biotech, he found it didn’t work because (as the WSJ put it) “small biotechs are no more successful than large drug makers at coming up with new drugs.”

Blogger Derek Lowe remarks that Zerhouni “was, in all likelihood, living in sort of a bubble at NIH.” And, Lowe suggests, knowledge of how to fix this is more likely to be found in an industry veteran than a government refugee.

On the one hand, Lowe notes that current NIH head Francis Collins wants to create a new NIH translational research institute. On the other hand, Wang cites its earlier posting, in which the ex-head of Merck said NIH is not well suited for translational research and instead should stick to basic science.

BTW, Lowe and Wang don’t seem to understand “open innovation” is or why Zerhouni is recommending it.

Defining open innovation is much easier than fixing the difficulties of pharma commercialization. A definition can easily be found with Google and there now are a large body of research, an online community and blog on the topic.

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