Leaping from the ivory tower

Survey suggests that business school collaborations would benefit translational research groups

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ST. LOUIS—While there are academic research institutionsthat are able to find consistent commercial success, such as the ScrippsResearch Institute and the Curie Institute, not all such institutions arefortunate enough to have highly effective technology transfer offices andbusiness-minded researchers.
So suggests Sigma-Aldrich Corp. which, in collaborationwith the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), recently produced"the State of Translational Research—2013 Survey Report." Said to be the firstsurvey of its kind, the report looks at a rapidly expanding field in whichacademic scientists aim to translate their laboratory discoveries to patientbenefit. Sigma-Aldrich and the AAAS say that the survey was completed by morethan 600 academic scientists who identified their research as translational.
According to 62 percent of respondents, businessschool collaboration would benefit translational research groups, but only 13percent reported current collaborations with their business schools. Whetherdue to business naïveté or lack of resources, the end result, according to theresearch, is that academic translational researchers will have to eventuallyjump out of the ivory tower to become more competitive and actually translatetheir discoveries.
Also looking outward from academia, 73 percent ofthe translational researcher responding to the survey agreed that industryfeedback on their research in its initial stages would be helpful, though only 27percent of them regularly consulted with industry scientists for suchcommentary.
Another way in which researchers are recognizingthe value of business-mindedness is found in the fact that 60 percent of thesurvey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that considering patents andcommercialization activities in tenure evaluations would encourage youngresearchers to pursue faculty positions in translational research.
There was at least one area in which translationalresearchers might stand to spend a little more time in the ivory tower, as 22percent of survey respondents rarely or never consult with peers and only 33percent do so often or always.
Another important finding of the survey involved thediffering perspectives among scientists about whether academic translationalresearch should be held to a higher standard of practice and which bestpractices should be adopted to assure that experiments are reproducible.Reproducibility of experiments is particularly critical to the success oftranslational researchers, whose goal is to deliver products for patient use,say Sigma-Aldrich and the AAAS. This is a key criterion of funding sources thatprovide subsequent milestone investments.
Survey respondents largely agreed that some typeof action is required to ensure reproducibility above and beyond what iscurrently being done. For example, 55 percent said they would be willing to usestandardized or validated reagents to ensure that their research is perceivedas reproducible. Additionally, report indicates that 97 percent of therespondents are willing to take some kind of action, making it clear that thetranslational research community is interested in addressing reproducibility.
"Sigma-Aldrichhas shown its commitment to the translational research community by supportingopportunities and innovations generated by research institutions, anddelivering scientific expertise all along the drug discovery chain, from targetidentification to enabling clinical trials," said Amanda Halford, vicepresident of academic research at Sigma-Aldrich. "We also believe in theimportance of alliances that permit biologists and chemists in academia andnon-profits to work closely with private industry and government agencies tobring the most promising research out of the so-called 'valley of death.'"
"Sigma-Aldrich conducted this survey," Halfordadded, "to help understand how we can maximize the potential of translationalresearch. That means finding out what works, identifying what does not, andstimulating debate about possible solutions."

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