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Leaping from the ivory tower
ST. LOUIS—While there are academic research institutions that are able to find consistent commercial success, such as the Scripps Research Institute and the Curie Institute, not all such institutions are fortunate enough to have highly effective technology transfer offices and business-minded researchers.
So suggests Sigma-Aldrich Corp. which, in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), recently produced "the State of Translational Research—2013 Survey Report." Said to be the first survey of its kind, the report looks at a rapidly expanding field in which academic scientists aim to translate their laboratory discoveries to patient benefit. Sigma-Aldrich and the AAAS say that the survey was completed by more than 600 academic scientists who identified their research as translational.
According to 62 percent of respondents, business school collaboration would benefit translational research groups, but only 13 percent reported current collaborations with their business schools. Whether due to business naïveté or lack of resources, the end result, according to the research, is that academic translational researchers will have to eventually jump out of the ivory tower to become more competitive and actually translate their discoveries.
Also looking outward from academia, 73 percent of the translational researcher responding to the survey agreed that industry feedback on their research in its initial stages would be helpful, though only 27 percent of them regularly consulted with industry scientists for such commentary.
Another way in which researchers are recognizing the value of business-mindedness is found in the fact that 60 percent of the survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that considering patents and commercialization activities in tenure evaluations would encourage young researchers to pursue faculty positions in translational research.
There was at least one area in which translational researchers might stand to spend a little more time in the ivory tower, as 22 percent of survey respondents rarely or never consult with peers and only 33 percent do so often or always.
Another important finding of the survey involved the differing perspectives among scientists about whether academic translational research should be held to a higher standard of practice and which best practices should be adopted to assure that experiments are reproducible. Reproducibility of experiments is particularly critical to the success of translational researchers, whose goal is to deliver products for patient use, say Sigma-Aldrich and the AAAS. This is a key criterion of funding sources that provide subsequent milestone investments.
Survey respondents largely agreed that some type of action is required to ensure reproducibility above and beyond what is currently being done. For example, 55 percent said they would be willing to use standardized or validated reagents to ensure that their research is perceived as reproducible. Additionally, report indicates that 97 percent of the respondents are willing to take some kind of action, making it clear that the translational research community is interested in addressing reproducibility.
"Sigma-Aldrich has shown its commitment to the translational research community by supporting opportunities and innovations generated by research institutions, and delivering scientific expertise all along the drug discovery chain, from target identification to enabling clinical trials," said Amanda Halford, vice president of academic research at Sigma-Aldrich. "We also believe in the importance of alliances that permit biologists and chemists in academia and non-profits to work closely with private industry and government agencies to bring the most promising research out of the so-called 'valley of death.'"
"Sigma-Aldrich conducted this survey," Halford added, "to help understand how we can maximize the potential of translational research. That means finding out what works, identifying what does not, and stimulating debate about possible solutions."