[WSJ Health Blog] Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, painted a stark picture at TEDMED about the difficulty of translating basic scientific knowledge into applications that could be useful to patients.
We need to â€œbuild a bridge across this yawning gap,â€ Collins told the audience at this gathering in Washington of researchers and other thinkers to discuss the future of health care. Collins first serenaded the crowd with his guitar and a song about the need to knock out disease.
Imagining the gulf between basic science and applications as a body of water, Collins said linking them wouldnâ€™t be like building the Golden Gate Bridge.Â Rather, itâ€™s more like a swimmer, a sailboat and a tugboat all attempting to cross the water.Â There are sharks and other obstacles in the water, causing the swimmer to die, the sailboat to capsize and the tugboat to run aground.
So what could help accelerate translation research, particularly drug development?
One thing, says Collins, is to encourage all companies to â€œopen their drug freezersâ€ for compounds that were determined to be safe and active â€” meaning it had an effect on the body â€” but werenâ€™t found to be useful for the purpose for which it was being developed.
If some of those old drugs could be repurposed â€” or taught new tricks, as he said â€” then development could be accelerated because theÂ compoundÂ could start at a Phase II trial for the new condition.
Intellectual property is the main concern stopping this from happening, and the NIH is working with companies to figure out an agreement amenable to drug companies. The NIH has a drafted a model agreement and theyâ€™re working to get drug companies to sign on, he said.
Stay tuned, he told reporters after his talk.