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Translational Medicine Push: Any real changes? - (Feb/07/2013 )

During my PhD training, there was this big push to fun "Translational Medicine" projects. In our lab, this just meant that every grant application was re-worded so it sounded more like we were trying to cure a disease. I'm wondering if there were some real changes in the structure of funded projects in response to this Translational Medicine push. In your country are you seeing some big projects funded that represent actual collaborations between academic labs, small biotechs, and/or big pharma with the goal of translating academic discoveries into treatments?


On our campus (in Germany), we do have a lot of translational research groups consisting of biologists and clinicians as well as projects being run together with small companies. I have the impression that it's currently rather the smaller local companies than the big pharma companies here, though. "Translational" is certainly "in" here although I can't really say whether it will yield better results in the past few years.


To me, it is just another hyper. Without basic research, what can you translate?

There is a very nice editorial in Science by Francis Collins on this topic: http://www.sciencema...7/6094/503.full

With regard to the TM hyper, he said:

“When everybody gets to one side of the boat, it usually tips over.” That saying may have originated on Wall Street, but it also stands as a warning to those charting the future of U.S. biomedical research. If the United States focuses too much of its investment on one part of the research continuum, the entire enterprise may sink.


You two seem to confirm what I have been thinking. In Europe, there are more of these huge grants that require international collaboration and cooperation between public and private (e.g. the fp7 program), while the U.S. will remain strong in basic research. I guess my real question is whether this has actually changed anything. Big labs always received most of the grant money and had companies interested in developing their findings into therapies, while small labs live on the small bits of funding they can get and hand-outs from the big labs. So has the big lab-to-small lab funding ratio changed? Are biotechs getting more public funding? What about pharma?


I'm afraid I can't really comment on that, unfortunately. I perceive a lot of startup biotech companies in the area, but I don't really know how it was before the translational medicine hype came around.

I don't know where you live, but if you're interested in European "research landscapes", there's this free magazine Lab Times which sometimes publishes analyses on funding and grants policies in different countries and similar stuff. Maybe you could search the online archive.


Our lab was on the hinge of translational medicine even before this. We stand somewhere between basic research (eventhough we do some) and the applied clinical routine labs we cooperate with, they give us those twists, mysteries, things that need to be investigated further, and we alone were able to start with a simple mutation screening and if found something interesting, go deeper into functional studies on cell lines or mice. That's what I like about it, it's not that far from the actual patients, but it's still not routine boring diagnosis stuff. But we are pretty small lab, flexible, yes, but our possibilities are limited.

However we now have a brand new shiny huge translation medicine institute just across the street, and they have everything, NGS, animal facilities, drug screenng robots, core labs and other things I forgot, to study cancers mostly and identify new drug targets and already produce a substance that is not only potential drug, because pharma companies are not that interested in such, but doing already the first rounds of functional trials. The plan is that in that case pharma companies would be much more interested in investment and further developement. I think this is a bold plan but they have all that is needed (except for people, a bit) and they have chance to succeed.
And they have to, because the initial EU funding will dry out in few years and they have to make money to maintain all this. It's such a huge project that it will either be a massive success in local measures or it will sink down the whole university if it fails.