Collaborations Move Innovation Forward

A new partnership between academia and industry has the potential to create new therapies, lengthen lives, shrink deficits and expand economies. More collaborations like this are needed.

Last month, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched a five-year collaboration with 10 pharmaceutical companies. Through this program, the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP), the NIH and partners will share scientists and resources to identify new therapeutic targets in three disease areas. Their goal is more therapies, faster.

“Currently, we are investing a great deal of money and time in avenues with high failure rates, while patients and their families wait. All sectors of the biomedical enterprise agree that new approaches are sorely needed,” Francis S. Collins, director of the NIH, said in a statement.

Private-public partnerships are an effective way to accelerate the development of new treatments for our most challenging diseases. These partnerships allow both sides to pool their resources, share the risk, promote economic growth and focus on innovative research and development (R&D), according to the World Health Organization. With the cooperation of the full U.S. health care system, we can increase the pace of medical innovation and save even more lives.

In 2008, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations and the European Commission launched a public-private partnership, called the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI). With €2 billion in funding, about 6,000 scientists are working on more than 45 ongoing IMI projects in the development of new medicines.

“I think it’s very important to realize that this partnership is really helping scientists not only to move forward, but also to move forward in a new direction, which is closer to what society really needs,” Michel Goldman, executive director of the IMI, said. “It creates a spirit and environment which really promotes collaborative efforts.”

Both academia and industry benefit from these partnerships. In 2012, researchers at the Tufts University Center for the Study of Drug Development analyzed 3,000 partnerships between academic medical centers (AMCs) and biopharmaceutical companies. The researchers found that these programs offered new opportunities for all partners to address scientific challenges and to develop new biomedical technologies.

“Partnerships are increasing access to cutting-edge science, equipment and resources at both universities and biopharmaceutical companies enabling the nation’s R&D enterprise to tackle the most complex and challenging disease and conditions. In the face of an increasingly challenging R&D environment and global competition, we are likely to witness the continuing proliferation of AMC-industry partnerships,” the authors concluded.

Of course, the recently announced NIH partnership focuses on the first stage of the discovery and development process. But there are needs for such collaborative approaches in other areas of the process as well. For example, according to a 2011 article published in Nature Reviews: Drug Discovery, the success rate for the phase II clinical trials—in which treatment candidates are tested for effectiveness in a large group of patients—sits at just 18 percent. With an all-hands-on-deck approach, we can do better than that.

In the end, the partnering of the NIH with pharmaceutical companies in three disease areas is a great start. But more private-public partnerships that focus not only on early drug discovery but also on the more challenging stages of development are essential to continue innovating new medicines.