Benefiting Sooner from Medical Research

Everyone would like to increase the payback to biomedical and health research. We all want increased quality and length of life and expect research to find ways of achieving that. The taxpayers who fund public research, the donors who give to research charities and the investors in commercial organisations all want to see as much benefit as possible being produced from the resources they provide.
Evidence to date, although rough, shows that medical research is a good use of resources: the rate of return is high. But the same studies also show how very long it takes to discover ways to improve health care and then bring them to the point where they are in routine use and delivering benefits to people. If we could shorten those time lags we would see an even better payback to medical research: better health sooner.
Recently completed research by the OHE working with Brunel University London, RAND Europe and King’s College London, significantly advances understanding of time lags in biomedical and health research. See:
Hanney, S.R., Castle-Clarke, S., Grant, J., Guthrie, S., Henshall, C., Mestre-Ferrandiz, J., Pistollato, M., Pollitt, A., Sussex, J. and Wooding, S., 2015. How long does biomedical research take? Studying the time taken between biomedical and health research and its translation into products, policy and practice. Health Research Policy and Systems, 13(1), pp.1-18. 
We reviewed academic and policy literatures; and most importantly we undertook detailed case studies of the research histories of seven very different health technologies. In the case studies we accessed a wide range of material, including records of patent disputes in the courts as well as more traditional documentary sources. The technologies in the seven case studies range from medicines to public health measures to behavioural therapy to a service reorganisation aimed at early intervention.
Overall we found that policy attention, taking the UK example, has focused primarily on speeding up research in/with human subjects, while balancing the requirements of safety and reduced risk. Policy attention has also been given to trying to improve the speed with which technologies are taken into routine use once demonstrated to be desirable.
Where there appears to have been rather less policy weight is on the discovery research track. By that we mean the research efforts expended in reaching the point where an idea or technique has been refined sufficiently, or a medicine has been synthesised, such that it can be tried with human subjects for the first time. Elapsed times are long in discovery research. Shortening those times can be expected to increase the payback to research without threatening safety or increasing risk. Research to explore how to do that should be a high priority. Perhaps it is time for discovery research to be the centre of attention?
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Posted in Drug Development/R&D, Research | Tagged External publications