Stories about: drug R&D

New therapeutic development models build researchers’ commercialization savvy

Academic and industry partners are explicitly working to fill pharma pipelines.
Academic and industry are explictly partnering to fill pharma pipelines.

Academic researchers and physician innovators are great at making research discoveries and developing inventions at an early stage. But if you were to fund them to turn their research findings into a product, would they have the expertise and experience needed to be successful? Most would not.

The investment community talks about the innovation funding gap, a.k.a. the “valley of death.” But there is also a knowledge gap on the part of academic researchers when it comes to transforming their technologies into therapeutics. Most want their findings to lead to new treatments for patients, but they lack the experience and expertise that companies have to advance early-stage research to a clinical stage. That includes expertise in designing pre-clinical experiments and navigating regulatory pathways for commercial development.

Academics often enter agreements with pharmaceutical companies, many of which are early-stage research grants. Often, these industry-sponsored research projects end with a scientific publication and are unsuccessful in generating new therapeutics—a subpar outcome for the company investor.

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Naturally derived medicinals: Where’s the business model?


Kola nut (cola acuminata) from Köhler's medicinal plants, 1887 (via trialsanderrors/Flickr)

It’s widely acknowledged that the pharmaceutical industry is in crisis. Pharma companies are seeing drugs coming off patent, competition from generics, diminished R&D success and increased cost pressures, all of which are contributing to the downfall of the blockbuster drug era. Various solutions have been proposed, including creating shared knowledge repositories to learn from failures and pairing treatments with companion biomarkers.

These solutions and others have merit. But I’d propose more emphasis on what I consider a major failing of the industry: the inability to effectively commercialize naturally derived compounds possessing therapeutic benefit.

Pharmaceutical companies have typically avoided naturally derived compounds because it is difficult to keep competitors out of the territory. Legislation such as the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act prohibits market exclusivity for natural compounds with known chemical compositions.

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