Faster Cures Begin in the “Consortium Sandbox”

by Amanda Conschafter, blog editor

For patients waiting on medical advances to improve their lives, public-private research partnerships may present a more efficient alternative to traditional research. Panelists from the government, academia, industry, nonprofits and clinical care discussed the issue at the “How the Research-by-Consortia Model Will Lead to Faster Cures” briefing this week. FasterCures has likened the model to a children’s sandbox because of its collaborative environment – an environment panelists agreed can accelerate the timeframe for getting new medications and devices into the hands of patients.

Unlike traditional research, consortia research pursues multiple stakeholders’ needs simultaneously. In addition to marrying the interests of science, industry, patients and policy, the consortia approach reimagines the traditional research funding model. As Eric Green of the National Human Genome Research Institute explained, institutes are doing more than “writing checks” to researchers now. Institutions coordinate with other institutions, and also with industry, private foundations, and others. This diversification, Green argued, is “very healthy, very important.”

Panelist Angela deMichele of University of Pennsylvania’s Perlman School of Medicine described how a new kind of clinical trial – master protocol – further expedites research consortia’s efforts. Rather than discrete clinical trials individually assessing patients to determine their suitability, master protocol trials coordinate individual trials and assign patient from among a vast group to the trial for which they’re best suited. The model requires fewer patients and consumes less time. DeMichele pointed to the I-SPY trial as evidence of what master protocol can achieve.

ShaAvhree Buckman-Garner of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research pinpointed the need to standardize data requirements for clinical trials, an issue she says “we overlook all the time.” She explained that varying data standards among stakeholders can complicate collaboration in the same way that two children trying to build a structure together – one with Legos and one with Lincoln Logs – would encounter challenges.

Building consortia, which FasterCures’ Executive Director Margaret Anderson called “executing on audacious goals,” requires some changes to the traditional way of thinking about research. Several panelists called for a cultural shift in the academic and science worlds toward celebrating collective successes instead of individual research achievements. They also encouraged more collaboration among industry during the pre-competitive stage of drug development. Government, panelists agreed, can offer not just funding but also leadership to encourage collaboration toward furthering what Eric Green called a “global phenomenon.”

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