The model for translational research that the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (known as QB3) uses to foster innovation without distracting from the business models of pharmaceutical companies could be considered, said Rutter. QB3 is a joint project between the University of California, San Francisco, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Santa Cruz, which merged the efforts of the faculties of the three universities. The faculty network brings expertise in a range of disciplines and a central facility provides services in support of bioscience entrepreneurs. QB3 provides laboratory space, professional development training, mentorship, and legal services for those innovators who would like to start a business. Almost 60 companies have emerged from the initiative and are either still part of the network or have expanded. NIH could facilitate the development of similar facilities around core areas of technology and expertise, Rutter suggested.
QB3 is a good example of how lean development could be valuable for the translation process, according to Rutter. Relatively small groups could initiate a project and carry it out under low-cost conditions until it becomes robust enough to be supported by venture capital or other groups. Several small companies also could be managed collectively, which would allow oversight by experienced managers in industry or a management group. Such strategies could help address the time-cost differential for development.
In addition to thinking about when to develop a research finding for clinical use, it is also just as important to know when to cease a project. Duyk said that researchers are too soft about terminating projects and reorienting their organizations. “We’re about to go through a financial crisis that’s going to take a generation, probably, to resolve. And we should use that as an opportunity to rethink and make some hard decisions.”
“We have to use those tools and figure out how we can get maximum impact out of the medical process,” said Duyk. “I think we don’t have enough iteration. If every drug development program is a rocket shot to the moon, you’re not going to do a lot of rocket shots to the moon.” To transform the translational pathway, “we have to really think about 21st-century solutions.” Terry added, “The solution is going to be us.… It will be somehow resolved within this kind of community, [with] this kind of group of stakeholders.”