How can we better utilize public-private partnerships to advance translation of science into new medicines for some of our most challenging diseases, such as neurological disorders?

Contributors Respond

Amy Comstock Rick

Amy Comstock Rick

CEO, Parkinson’s Action Network

Read Amy Comstock Rick's bio

Read Amy Comstock Rick's bio

In a traditional research model, scientists look to answer a specific question using public or private funds before those findings are translated into clinical research and trials. This process can be quite slow and waste a great deal of time, a precious commodity for people with progressive diseases like Parkinson’s. In a well-executed partnership, the right people come to the table early on, as demonstrated by a recent report from United for Medical Research, which found that successful private-public partnerships led to private sector growth and innovation, job creation, and a strengthened national economy.

The Parkinson’s community would particularly benefit from more successful private-public partnerships. In fact, currently there is no cure, therapy, or drug to slow or halt the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Unlike many other diseases, Parkinson’s disease also has no known biomarker and the cause of the disease is unknown. For the 500,000 to 1.5 million Americans living with Parkinson’s disease, ground-breaking research is absolutely necessary. In addition, a study released earlier this year found that the economic burden of Parkinson’s disease is at least $14.4 billion a year in the U.S., further highlighting the need to support increased funding for research and development.

More recently, the Parkinson’s community took this approach when Vanderbilt University, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF), and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) collaborated to develop a promising new treatment for Parkinson’s disease. At a Congressional briefing in November 2012 hosted by the Parkinson’s Action Network (PAN) and Vanderbilt University, the collaborating organizations met with Capitol Hill staff and members of the biomedical research community to discuss how their arrangement could become a model for future public-private partnerships.

The drug in development is a potential symptomatic treatment for Parkinson’s disease that targets the neurotransmitter glutamate. That long-term commitment between Vanderbilt and MJFF attracted the much needed additional funding and development by BMS. It is important to note that the original research for this drug was federally funded and conducted through the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Morris K. Udall Center for Excellence for Parkinson’s Disease at Emory University.

Having such strong collaborations between all parties early on in the research process helps a disease community get drugs into the pipeline faster, think about clinical trials sooner, and work toward better efficacy and safety standards. Unfortunately, too many promising discoveries that are funded by NIH never make it to clinical development. That is why PAN played a key role in the creation of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). NCATS brings together NIH’s translational activities and expertise into one Center, aimed at supporting and strengthening translational research; fostering collaboration between federal agencies, the private sector, and non-profits; and supporting and training current and future translational research investigators.

Examples like these give people in the Parkinson’s community the confidence that better drugs and devices will soon enter the market. PAN will continue fighting to support the funding and policies that encourage more of these collaborations to lead to better treatments and a cure for Parkinson’s disease.

Randall L. Rutta

Randall L. Rutta

CSO, EVP, Public Affairs, Easter Seals

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Read Randall Rutta's bio

Public-private partnerships make the seemingly impossible possible by translating the complexities of science into healthcare products and services that improve and save peoples’ lives. Easter Seals’ nearly 100 year history of serving people with disabilities and their families provide many examples of successful outcomes that enhance the lives of people through research to practice collaborations with partners. During the mid-20th Century, Easter Seals helped lead the charge to eradicate polio along with the medical community – one of the most difficult public health challenges of the time. Today, with the advent of amazing discoveries in brain plasticity, we are working with neuroscientists to help individuals and families affected by neurological/cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Depression, Schizophrenia, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders.

Whether Easter Seals is providing adult day health services, early childhood interventions to “Make the First Five Count,” delivering rehabilitation, workforce, speech/hearing or service for military service members and veterans, the goals remain the same – to leverage the power of partnerships to improve the lives and independence of individuals with chronic or disabling conditions. Easter Seals Brain Health Center is one such example. As a national network of service providers, Easter Seals is focused on creating solutions and expanding awareness of how people can use new and emerging brain training regimens and products to improve many of their cognitive functions. It’s why we created Easter Seals Brain Health Center, a nexus of information, service and research-to-practice partnership.

These collaborations result in major outcomes for people and partners. When caring for individuals with neurologic disorders, public-private partnerships stimulate the development of breakthrough interventions   for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, today over 5 million Americans are living with this disease, but by 2050, that number could be over 16 million. More recently, Easter Seals’ is mobilizing our thousands of personnel on the ground to address the needs of tens of thousands of veterans with traumatic brain injury and Post-Traumatic Stress.

Promising new discoveries in neuroscience combined with pioneering brain-imaging research techniques are creating less invasive and less expensive diagnostic techniques along with new medicines and new online tools. Powerful smartphones and emerging computer-based delivery systems are transforming millions of lives. Personalized therapies help people with neurological conditions make tremendous strides. Easter Seals’ commitment to public-private collaboration is a steadfast and a proven path for life-changing progress.

Stevin Zorn, PhD

Stevin Zorn, PhD

EVP, Neuroscience R&D, Lundbeck Research USA

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Read Stevin Zorn's bio

Some of the world’s most debilitating disorders fall under the category of mental illness and affect the central nervous system - depression, mood disorders, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, to name a few. The percentage of those affected by these disorders remains on the rise. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is already the leading cause of disability worldwide, and by 2030, will be the leading global burden of disease.

The reason depression and other central nervous system (CNS) disorders are so debilitating is because they affect the mind – an organ that differentiates humans from all other living creatures. These disorders, when untreated or not effectively treated, can have a major negative impact. They can keep sufferers from fully enjoying life, socially interacting, remembering things, and even performing basic biological activities like eating, walking and sleeping.

The research we - as an industry - perform is aimed at creating medicines to help address these problems. But we cannot do it alone. For example, Lundbeck is one of the few pharmaceutical companies entirely focused on addressing disorders of the brain. While our own research efforts are ambitious, significant progress in R&D and treatment, both now and in the future, is not possible without collaborations with government and academic institutions

Public-private partnerships with industry, government and academia are critical to advancing breakthroughs in medical sciences. Alone, none of these institutions have the full value chain including the knowledge, capabilities, or technology to tackle the complexity of central nervous system disorders that allows the translation of underlying disease biologies into the discovery and production of needed innovative new medicines.

Succinctly, academia and government laboratories have the ability to dig into the basic science and underlying disease biologies to a level and depth that industry simply can’t, and industry has the depth and know-how to expand on and translate such biologies to formulate them into medicines. Ultimately, no one group has the ability alone to validate ideas and to generate medicines. It really takes a community effort to do so.

Thus, in an ecosystem where academia, industry and government research all work together, a tremendous synergy exists allowing the combination of intellectual capabilities, financial resources and technical expertise to come together and enable the common goal of understanding the biologies behind these devastating disorders and translating them into collective achievements. This will yield more new and hopefully better medicines.

In addition, these partnerships are a critical component to our work because the ecosystem is constantly changing. Brain disorders are incredibly difficult and challenging and the total number of companies devoting significant financial resources to treating these disorders has diminished over time. This has resulted in less interaction and collaboration amongst industry partners while increasing the financial burden and risks associated with research and development.

This makes public-private partnerships more important than ever. These partnerships have the power to create a framework by which everyone can work together to achieve our common interests, share and act quickly on emerging critical new discoveries and knowledge and minimize risks through working together and pooling our resources.