Needed: a quantum leap  pg. 3

Partner with industry

Academic medical centers also need to be innovative in their acquisition and use of research dollars, Vanderbilt scientists say.

One of the reasons that Vanderbilt Medical Center has had a successful research enterprise is that it has invested in “elements of 21st century success,” Masys continues. These include information technology and other systems approaches aimed at squeezing waste and inefficiency out of its delivery of health care, while improving quality and outcomes.

“It’s vision; it’s core facilities; it’s a lot of different strategic moves we’ve made over the years,” adds Mark Magnuson, M.D., who directs the Vanderbilt Center for Stem Cell Biology.

Another avenue of innovation can be found in collaborations with industry.

Jeffrey Conn, Ph.D., director, Program in Drug Discovery
Photo by Joe Howell
“We’re in the place in our biomedical research history and the history of the pharmaceutical industry especially where companies are desperate for new models and opportunities to invest,” says Jeffrey Conn, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Program in Drug Discovery.

Drug companies are reluctant to invest in university-based research “for the sake of research,” Conn says, “but when they see research that can impact the company’s viability, those opportunities are there.”

An example is Vanderbilt’s partnership with the Boston-based biotech firm Seaside Therapeutics to find potential treatments for fragile X syndrome, the most common inherited form of mental retardation and the most common genetic cause of autism. The goal is to reduce or eliminate the neurological and psychiatric consequences of the condition by chemically modulating the aberrant signaling of a neurotransmitter in the brain.

“If it works, it could be transformative,” says Conn, who led the neuroscience program at Merck for several years. “It could totally change the way people view developmental disorders.”

As academic medical centers do a better job matching their needs with those of pharmaceutical companies, he continues, “I think we increase the productivity of the companies that rely on (that) science… and then we increase the support of the public. The reason that we’re having such a crisis right now with public support is that they see this investment, and they’re looking for what’s coming out of it.”

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