Arizona’s newness to the biosciences positions the state to take advantage of an intriguing opportunity in translational research, an increasingly critical area in which the United States is underperforming and no state or region currently excels. A true opportunity exists for an upstart state to “leapfrog” to prominence. Is that state Arizona?
According to a new Battelle report, the state has the right ingredients: identified areas of research excellence, success in growing its bioscience research, a strong track record in collaboration, and a growing and diverse population.
But the report also points out that Arizona must address weaknesses in its clinical research capacity, revealed by its lagging position in early-stage clinical trial activities and in specialized grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for clinical research.
The report, co-sponsored by the Flinn Foundation and Arizona Biomedical Research Commission (ABRC), was introduced to the research community in mid-June at the Sixth Arizona Biosciences Leadership Symposium,. The two-day meeting in Phoenix featured presentations on translational research, research tracks on the core competency areas of Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap–bioengineering, cancer research, neurosciences, and bioimaging–and a keynote presentation by Bill Harris, president and CEO of Science Foundation Arizona.
Translational research–simply stated, the collaborative process of taking research discoveries to market in an efficient, coordinated manner–is an area that has been singled out for improvement by federal agencies such as the NIH and U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They cite that while the number of basic research discoveries has swelled, the quantity of products coming to market has decreased.
Translational research involves coordination among many players–basic scientific researchers, clinical practitioners, marketing analysts, review-board officials, and policymakers, among others. This melting pot of professional backgrounds, cultures, and agendas can lead to bottlenecks in research efforts going forth. Collaborative efforts are particularly challenging, given intellectual property ownership issues and review protocols that vary by institution.
Few, if any, regions have assembled a translational model effective enough to stake a claim to this territory. And for the state that does, it could be fertile ground indeed.%pagebreak%
So where does Arizona stand?
Arizona is a paradox, the report asserts; its newness can be viewed as both a liability and an asset. On the one hand, the state cannot claim the clinical excellence and tradition found in other leading states–though its youth enables it to devise new systems and move with flexibility not possible in more entrenched regions. On the other, the state’s stellar reputation at inter-institutional collaboration gives it a competitive edge. Another key advantage, is the prevalence of special populations–the elderly, Native Americans, Hispanics–that experience disproportionately high rates of certain afflictions.
In early 2005, a committee and three workgroups of statewide leaders in science, health care, law, industry, and government assembled under Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap. The groups met on an ongoing basis for 18 months, guided by the research and facilitation of Battelle and oversight of the Flinn Foundation and ABRC. The process culminated in the release of recommendations at the bioscience research symposium.
The report details the challenges and opportunities of translational research, Arizona’s strengths and weaknesses, examples of the state’s collaborative research endeavors, and a comprehensive plan to develop a statewide model compiled by the four Roadmap groups. Efforts were recommended to:
- Create a networking forum for institutional review boards (IRBs) to build a sense of community and share best practices.
- Launch a community-based IRB to assist institutions that have no IRBs of their own and to support multisite trials.
- Host technical policy-development retreats to advance more consistent approaches across IRBs.
- Form a statewide clinical research consortium to facilitate collaborations of community physicians and clinical research leaders, thereby increasing clinical-trial activity.
- Advance guidelines on business practices, removing or mitigating those that can pose barriers to collaboration in biomedical research.
- Develop a community-based participatory research guide for advancing collaborations with ethnic groups.
- Create the Arizona Translational Research Network (AzTransNet) as the umbrella group coordinating these activities. AzTransNet would facilitate the changes in policy, infrastructure, and culture necessary to build statewide capacity for collaboration. It would engage industry, universities, nonprofit research institutes, hospitals, medical centers, and private practice physicians.
Planning is underway to begin implementing these steps in fall 2006.
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