How can we advance the development of new cures and treatments?

Posted on May 17, 2012 by


By Dr Denise Goldman, translational research manager, Action on Hearing Loss

Many medical conditions are in desperate need of new treatments and cures. Few medical research charities have the resources necessary to develop a new treatment through to market, so we rely on investment from government and industry to make this happen. A major stalling point is translational research; governments and charities fund early-stage/ discovery research, while industry typically tends to fund the development of treatments through clinical trials. As a result, a funding gap has always existed at the translational research stage where a novel idea from the lab is turned into a real potential treatment.

The valley of death – a widening barrier for new treatments

Alarmingly, this funding gap or “valley of death” has been widening as industry becomes increasingly risk-averse in tough economic climates, this is likely to impact the development of new treatments. But how do medical research charities play a pivotal role in what seems like an intractable situation?

Learning from the successes of others

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in the US paved the way for charities to step beyond advocacy and funding discovery research, becoming drivers in the development of treatments. In the UK, Cancer Research UK is a powerhouse in the development of new treatments for cancer. Whilst the activities of large charities are certainly inspirational, even small charities with limited resources can make a big difference and create momentum.

Action on Hearing Loss – the small UK medical research charity approach

Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID) supports people with a hearing loss or tinnitus. The organisation performs a wide range of activities, one of which is a small but active biomedical research programme. The programme focuses on one of the charity’s key strategies: to advance the development of new cures and treatments for hearing loss and tinnitus, two appallingly underfunded and overlooked conditions that together affect 1 in 6 in the developed world. For us the funding gap is more of a steep gorge than valley as there are no medications available to treat hearing loss, and few in development. With limited resources, we have been forced to think creatively about how we might mediate change.

The Translational Research Initiative for Hearing, or TRIH

We started out tackling this issue by funding discovery research but quickly realised we needed to address the entire R&D pipeline and involve all the major players. A key focus for us is engaging industry, which we do by providing free consultancy and market intelligence reports. Last year we launched TRIH , which specifically funds translational research and has 15 industry partners that can provide additional funding.

Creating momentum and real change

In March, we held the TRIH Summit, which brought together all the key opinion leaders in the field, from pharmas and biotechs, government, health services, research institutions, clinical centres and investor groups. Allowing such diverse groups to interact, discuss barriers and opportunities and feedback opinions has informed our strategies moving forwards and generated excitement and, significantly, collaborations.

Utilise your strengths

The unique position that medical research charities hold, sitting at the centre of the field and working with all sectors, allows us to play a key role in connecting stakeholders. An in-depth understanding of the research field and patient needs are merits from which to draw strength. Even with limited resources, medical research charities can have a significant impact.

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Posted in: Research