'NCATS is a different beast,' Austin said. 'It was set up as
a collaborative instrument. It's founding principle is that we have to do these
very, very important things that no one else can do.'
Barker of the Arizona State University
School of Life Sciences hopes that mission includes creating systems to
speed up translation. 'We haven't thought about creating an end-to-end system
that starts with the patient and ends with the patient,' she said. And a key to
this system is requiring high quality at every level, for which she feels the
scientific community needs standards. 'We have not thought about how to deliver
molecular findings to patients in a high-quality, controlled way,' she said.
Some steps that could speed translation involve solving
problems that have no return on investment, so it is difficult for researchers
or big companies to justify using the resources. 'How we use our resources has
to be ever more strategic,' said Dale
Edgar of Lilly Research
Laboratories, who said his company is pursuing success by identifying 'pillars
of excellence,' such as maintaining quality standards of practice for the data
Research decisions can't be made in a vacuum, said Stelios
Papadopoulos of Exelixis, especially
not in an investment vacuum. Decisions still must be made to get the maximum
return on investment. 'I have not seen a compelling investment proposition to
go in and engage in [translational research],' he said.
NCATS, which is free from needing to find a cure for a
particular disease or make a particular return on investment, can help, said
Austin. He feels this gives the agency an obligation to work on the general
issues that will help advance translation.
The panelists agreed that true collaboration is key. Every
stakeholder has to go 'all in' for the collaboration to work, cautioned panel
Anderson of FasterCures. Edgar pointed to the Innovative Medicines Initiative in Europe
as a good example of all stakeholders working together to find and overcome
critical gaps in driving innovation to the patient. He said the exciting thing
about NCATS is 'thinking about the patient as the end point and not the next
grant.' Innovation, he said, 'requires a line of sight to the patient from the
'Something NCATS brings to the table is leadership,
galvanizing the industry and all of the players,' said Sherer. He advised
Austin to plan for some early accomplishments in the next 18-24 months to prove
to naysayers that the agency can affect change.
Edgar encouraged NCATS to continue to foster partnerships,
because 'great things will happen.'
'The way you make these things work increasingly is to be
inclusive,' said Barker. 'Get the best input you can up front from as many in
the community as you can. Get as much buy-in as you can.'
And Austin is doing just that at NCATS. He reported that he
is in talks now with stakeholders in 'concentric circles' in the process,
including institute directors, academic institutions, patient groups, pharma,
biotech, and VCs. As the agency develops, his goal is to keep the patient at
the center of everything. 'Having patient involvement helps you stay on the
critical path,' he said.