State 'should focus on translational medicine' to compete

By Wai Lang Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Life sciences, Health care

The state of Massachusetts should invest become the 'new medicine
capital' of the US, with a focus on translational medicine
research, or risk losing out to rivals around the world.

Global competition, inconsistent collaboration between industry and academia and a lack of a talent strategy are threatening to undermine the state's life sciences cluster, and focusing on translational medicine could reverse that trend. Translational medicine is a branch of medical research that attempts to more directly connect basic research to patient care. Translational medicine is growing in importance in the healthcare industry, and is a term whose precise definition is in flux. In the case of drug discovery and development, translational medicine typically refers to the "translation" of basic research into real therapies for real patients. The emphasis is on the linkage between the laboratory and the patient's bedside. Many global life sciences companies, including Novartis, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer, have established operations and created jobs in Massachusetts in recent years. The report, produced by Boston-based consultancy Mass Insight, proposes the creation of a $200m Translational Medicine Centre (TMC), which would leverage local university knowledge base transforming the way life sciences research is achieved. The TMC would be funded through $50m in state grants and matched with $150m in private and federal funds. The aim is to make the TMC the: "centrepiece of a state strategy to generate more economic opportunity for the region and deliver new life-altering treatments to the world.​" The Centre would actively invest in collaborative research proposals that enhance "bench-to-bed" delivery of new therapies and treatments. Traditionally, basic research has been separated from the clinical practice of medicine by a series of hurdles or fences. New drugs were developed independently of the clinic, and often "thrown over the fence" for safety testing and clinical trials. The move toward translational medicine is focused on removing these fences, and stimulating "bench to bedside" research. The Global Mass Life Sciences Working Group, a panel of Massachusetts life sciences academic and industry leaders, has identified the TMC as the highest priority recommendation among the Mass Insight proposals. Its high importance aims to fend off predictions that Massachusetts will not reach its full job growth potential. Massachusetts faces growing competition from other global clusters - which have lower costs, better collaboration and a more active talent pipeline. The report notes that China, while currently far behind Massachusetts in the quality and quantity of research and commercial applications, will generate 11,000 life sciences Ph.D.s in 2015 compared to 400 produced by Massachusetts annually. "A translational medicine strategy opens the door for more transformative changes for Massachusetts​," said Dana Farber CEO Ed Benz. "It would break down the walls between institutions and disciplines and it is central to a global talent strategy that can recruit and retain the top researchers from Massachusetts and the world. In terms of state investment and focus, it offers the greatest long term return​." Additionally, there would be investment in industry-university research centres, including one built around the Nobel Prize-winning work of Dr. Craig Mello of the University of Massachusetts. "The fundamentals of drug discovery and development are being transformed by genomic information​," said Mass Insight president William Guenther. "Massachusetts has the potential to become home to the next generation of global life sciences companies, but that will happen only through the right investment and expanded collaboration. Since the NIH clearly is moving in the direction of translational medicine, it is critical ... to have a strategic and coordinated approach​." The report cites the need to create connections with global clusters such as those in New Jersey, the European Union, India and China, under the themes of talent development, healthcare policy and delivery, and local industry development. It also recommended the coordination of activities to speed up clinical trials claiming that Massachusetts missed out on clinical trials because of a lack of participants and a lack of communication between hospitals and drug companies. "Massachusetts should reform its process for conducting clinical trials by boosting recruitment efforts of clinical trial participants and streamlining the hospital review and approval process for new trials​," said the report. While the state has a diverse economy, with strengths and IT and other disciplines that can be applied to the life sciences sector, its current cross-sector collaboration strategy leaves a lot to be desired. The report recommended the creation of a digitised tissue bank, which would enable researchers to better access tissue samples from other institutions and also create business opportunities for area IT firms.

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