Gary H. Gibbons - November 20, 2013
When you speak with Dr. Joseph Loscalzo about the new Boston Biomedical Innovation Center, you can’t help but get excited about the prospects of enhancing the health of the nation by promoting greater commercialization of NIH-funded discovery science.
“We have all the people we need to make it work. We have all the resources now in hand that we need to make it work. So I think that we are in a very unique situation to prove that this concept is a valid one for the future development of technologies that spring from what the NIH supported over the years as basic investigation that can now be applied to patient care.”
He’s not alone in his enthusiasm. Dr. Loscalzo, co-center director for the Boston Biomedical Innovation Center; Dr. Paul DiCorleto, director of the Cleveland Clinic Innovation Center; and Dr. Michael Palazzolo, principal investigator for the University of California Biomedical Research Acceleration, Integration, and Development (UC BRAID) Center for Accelerated Innovation—along with additional representatives from the three centers, the NIH community, and other government entities—came together to talk about a new, bold initiative from the NHLBI: the NIH Centers for Accelerated Innovations (NCAI).
This paradigm-shifting program holds the promise of fostering a transformational change in the way basic science discoveries move from the laboratory into commercial products. And the need to make that change is clear, because better stewardship of intellectual property – taking our research out of the labs and into the population – holds the greatest chance of improving the health (and wealth) of our nation.
From Bench to Bedside to the Marketplace of Patient Care
In 2010, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins published an article in Science in which he identified translational science as an area of particular promise, but noted that critics have complained about NIH’s ability to translate basic discoveries into new diagnostic and treatment advances in the clinic.
On top of that, new challenges in the marketplace – such as investors who are more risk averse when it comes to early-stage science, pharmaceutical companies that have reduced spending in their early translational research programs – and the need for this program becomes clear.
Translational Science is a Team Sport
One reason we’re so excited about the NCAIs is because this one-of-a-kind NIH program is helping to forge bonds and create alliances that otherwise wouldn’t – and previously didn’t – exist. And these bonds aren’t just among the groups of grantees that came together to submit proposals. The bonds include the many federal agencies that are stakeholders in biomedical technology development who have expressed a commitment to sharing resources with the grantees, including USPTO, FDA, and other NIH centers and institutes.
The teams that will be collaborating in these Centers – which, in some cases, may seem to be strange bedfellows – were selected to receive these grants because of the unique partnerships.
We’re also excited that the collaborations will extend beyond the Centers’ walls as they share best practices with each other and, eventually, with the larger scientific community so that more universities can benefit.
A New Generation of Innovators and Entrepreneurial Scientists
Beyond collaboration, the NCAIs will embody another key, enduring NHLBI principle—Mentorship.
The amazing science supported by the NHLBI is driven by the talent and collective intelligence of a remarkable extramural community. Our grantees daily make amazing discoveries that not only contribute to the scientific knowledge base, but hold the promise of potentially leading to new therapeutics, diagnostics, and devices. Unfortunately, in many cases, the path to translate discovery into health outcomes isn’t easily identifiable.
One reason the NCAIs have the potential to be so transformative is because they will influence how discoveries with scientific and commercial potential are identified at universities, how technologies are developed into products, and how innovators are engaged and educated.
Accelerating Innovation: Defining Success
Everyone defines success differently. And despite having been issued a common challenge and ultimate goal, the story is no different for the diverse and exciting group of individuals (and institutions) involved in the NCAIs.
Issuing the Gauntlet
Despite the growing fiscal challenges, the NHLBI sees this as an opportune moment for boldness, innovation, and invention. We see this as a time to be entrepreneurial in our thinking and actions.
The U.S. long has held a competitive edge in science and biotechnology because of the quality of our researchers and the depth of our research. However, if we are to sustain that competitive edge, we must find creative ways to overcome the short-term focus of the current fiscal-political climate and the hurdles that hinder nimble innovation.
Our challenge to the NCAIs is not a simple one: Develop the tools, practices, and partnerships to keep the U.S. at the leading edge of the global biotechnology economy. It is a challenge that we feel can be met with collective, concerted effort toward a shared vision.
I look forward to continuing a dialogue with the NCAIs, the private sector and the rest of the extramural community as to how NHLBI can play a catalytic role in promoting innovative public-private partnerships and harnessing the collective intelligence to make a positive impact on public health.
Mattie Stepanek, a wise child who tragically lost his battle with muscular dystrophy, once said, “Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”
Stepanek was right and we designed the NCAI program and engaged the best and brightest in the public and private sector to extend this truism to translational science.