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Turning discoveries into therapeutics

19 Oct 2018, by Amy Sarcevic

The world of bioscience is not short of academic literature. Every year thousands of research papers make their way into scientific journals, yet the vast majority of these progress no further.

Ahead of the Bio Connections Australia conference we spoke with Glenn Begley of BioCurate to discuss why this may be.

Glenn is enthusiastic about the advances that have been made in academic labs, but is keen to convert yet more of these discoveries into new treatments. In this regard, he outlines three important hurdles to overcome.

#1 – Validity

Of principal concern to industry is the validity of research findings.

“The average investment required to convert a bioscientific research finding into a drug or therapy is $2.6 billion (US). To justify this investment, companies must have absolute confidence that the research findings upon which the therapy development is based are valid and accurate”, highlights Glenn.

Seems logical. Yet, bioscientific research appears to be suffering an ‘invalidity pandemic’ – with an estimated 75-90 percent of papers deemed non-replicable due to low experimental validity.

Glenn attributes this to phenomena such as “p-hacking” (the process by which researchers game the system, tirelessly trying out random combinations of variables until a statistically significant result is achieved) or “cherry-picking” (choosing the result that looks the best but which is not truly representative).

This, he argues, is universally driven by the perverse incentives that apply, where the focus is on quantity rather than quality of publications to secure the next research grant.

“Part of BioCurate’s mandate has been to replicate and validate existing data to give pharmaceutical firms the confidence to make necessary investments”, adds Glenn.

“The industry as a whole is very aware of p-hacking and other factors that contribute to low validity – and appreciates the work we are doing, sifting through experiments to find the ones that we can really believe”.

Glenn will discuss BioCurate’s views on research validity in further depth at the conference.

#2 – Differentiation

Differentiation is a key to the success of any business and Glenn argues that the realm of pharmaceuticals is no different.

“It’s all very well discovering the importance of a particular molecule in the sensation of pain, for example. But if a therapy targeting that molecule for pain relief is no more effective than, say, aspirin, then the research is practically redundant to industry”, Glenn highlights.

In this regard, Glenn encourages researchers to maintain a long-sighted view of how their finding may benefit humankind, as opposed to shorter-sighted prospects, such as publication and or a subsequent research grant.

#3 – IP strategy

Glenn highlights how the temptation to patent initial pieces of research quickly – to allow the researcher to go public with their findings – is an, oftentimes, shortsighted and self-sabotaging approach.

“On too many occasions I’ve seen a researcher’s former patent used as ‘prior art’ against them for subsequent projects they are trying to protect – their latest finding deemed only an increment of their initial finding. This leaves the researcher’s later work vulnerable to competition”, he tells us.

An additional side-effect of this hasty approach is the difficulty in recouping investment.

“You make a discovery and get it patented for 20 years, but it takes 15 years to bring the therapy to market. That might just leave you 4-5 years to get a return on the [average] $2.6 billion investment it took to get you this far”.

Glenn instead urges researchers to think strategically in terms of how to build an entire IP portfolio and will be offering more advice on this at the conference.

Glenn Begley will outline further barriers to research success at the Bio Connections Australia conference, offering recommendations and practical advice on how to better convert ideas into industry.

Learn more and register.


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