But the costs associated with bringing a drug from idea to market run into the billions, making drug companies highly risk averse. And in the academic world, timelines or project shifts can slow down discovery, limiting the innovative potential of academic research.
Regardless, patients still need medical advances now, as well as a pipeline of innovation to improve treatment in the future.
Thomas “TC” Chung, Ph.D., associate director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCaTS) Office of Translation to Practice (OTP) at Mayo Clinic, has worked in both the academic and pharmaceutical worlds. Now he and the OTP help bring new products into clinical practice by connecting those worlds and rooting them firmly in clinical practice.
The OTP organizes strategic alliances, collaborations and partnerships between Mayo Clinic experts, who have experience in both academic research and clinical practice, and collaborators in industry and academia.
This week Dr. Chung will present a keynote talk about the innovative nature of the OTP model at the second International Conference on Clinical Sciences and Drug Discovery in Dundee,
Scotland. He was invited to speak because pharmaceutical companies have an innovation problem and Mayo Clinic offers one solution.
“Pharma companies over the last ten years have addressed the lack of innovation by accessing academic discoveries,” says Dr. Chung. “But there’s this valley of death converting the academic idea into something that can be further optimized and put on a development pathway. It’s that gap that Mayo Clinic is addressing.”
“Mayo’s sweet spot is preclinical research up to the first trials in man,” says Dr. Chung, slightly earlier than the phase two trial level, which is where pharma would like to step in. “But the key differentiator for someone in pharma or another collaborator is our translation boards.”
The OTP offers four main resources to internal and external collaborators: strategic collaborations, project management, novel technology pathways, and translation boards. The translation boards are comprised of Mayo Clinic researchers and clinical key opinion leaders who identify and vet projects.
“Mayo Translation boards have a real opportunity to address the four deficiencies of clinical trials,” says Dr. Chung, “Wrong population, wrong indication, wrong endpoint, and wrong pharmacology.” He says that collaborators and partners are often unaware of the depth board members offer, or the array of patient populations seen at Mayo Clinic.
Dr. Chung says, “It used to be that Mayo Clinic was brought in as sort of a passive clinical partner. Very quickly we asserted ourselves and asked questions, and we’ve changed the course of what was going to be the initial indication and clinical trial design three times in the last year.” Now says Dr. Chung, partners seek Mayo’s advice before getting too far down the pathway.
Case in Point
One example of how the OTP’s new model works can be seen in the quest to develop a drug that blocks cyclophilin B. This protein is abounds in two types of nervous system tumors, glioblastomas and medulloblastomas.
After Mayo Clinic researchers made the initial discovery, they partnered with an external group to test compounds that would bind to the target protein. After testing about 385,000 compounds, 314 were advanced to review and ultimately 99 were selected for testing. [Read the full story in Discovery’s Edge, “Mayo Plugs into Drug Discovery”]
Currently the OTP is shepherding a full pipeline of drug discovery targets through various stages of development. And Dr. Chung has a message for those who will see his keynote speech this week: “I’m saying we’re open for business and looking for active collaborators.”