The move toward translational research implies a critical change in how a voluntary health organization approaches its mandate, and there can be no one-size-fits-all approach. For the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, for instance, the current state of science and medicine in blood cancers puts them somewhere in the middle. For example, there is a great deal of basic science that remains to be done, so the society continues to fund core academic research programs. Basic research is important because it is necessary to lay a strong foundation in the basic understanding of the disease; only then can researchers effectively identify targets. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, for which there are real opportunities to drive therapies out of the lab and into the clinic, has been increasingly investing in translational research.
For the society, that meant conducting a formal and extensive review of the existing research portfolio, explained DeGennaro. By looking at the research projects it was already funding through the lens of pharmaceutical drug development and discovery, it found that more than 10 percent of its already funded projects were actually in the development stage. This showed that the state of the science and medicine in the society’s disease space was advanced enough for substantial clinical development work to begin. It had the kinds of targets, assays, and biomarkers ready and available to put a focused translational development project in place, said DeGennaro.
Through the discussions at the workshop, many participants agreed that there are key factors that need to back up the decision to fund translational research. Richard Insel, executive vice president of research for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, offered four key points to consider:
Know your disease
Know your partners
Identify your goal
To know where to begin and what needs to be funded, voluntary health organizations need a strong understanding of their target diseases and conditions—a map of their diseases. What is really known about the disease? What is unknown yet needs to be known in order to facilitate