How do you get a real bang for your billion bucks when it comes to life science innovation? How can we translate the promise of research investment into real impact, helping people live longer, healthier lives on a population-wide scale?
Stephen Caddick, the Wellcome Trust’s director of innovation, is pondering just that. The Trust has a vision of spending £1 billion a year over the next five years to improve human health. Caddick and Trust director Jeremy Farrar understand that simply more of the same isn’t going to produce a step change.
According to Caddick, there are 9 ways life sciences research and innovation has to change:
1. Put human behaviour at the heart of research
Between 30% and 50% of prescribed medications are not properly used – or not taken at all – by the people they are prescribed to. The miracle cure has little impact if the patient doesn’t take the pill. New approaches to treating disease must acknowledge behaviour as a crucial dimension of treatment. Personal empowerment and individual choice are integral to any effective approach to managing human health.
2. Tackle sickness, not the sick
Focusing on the sick may solve, or at least manage, individual illness or localized disease. However, the next generation of life science innovations will look at solutions that improve the health of whole populations, contributing to disease prevention, not simply curing disease.
3. Focus on the problems we can solve
Life science research and innovation cannot solve everything. At any one time, it is important to focus research and innovation on key projects that can be done well and delivered with maximum impact.
4. Make life science entrepreneurship ‘cool’
The inspirational work in diagnostics, drugs, gamification and with therapeutic apps deserves celebration. Make life science entrepreneurship as cool and as celebrated as technology entrepreneurship. If we can capture the imagination of the broader population, we will motivate innovators and attract the best minds. Excitement increases take up and so deepens impact.
5. Offer alternative research pathways outside the academic model
Academia will continue to be a vital sources of life science research and innovation, but it is not the only path. Innovation can be stifled by academic career paths that focus solely on publication outputs and research grants. We must find new ways to encourage younger scientists to explore their brilliant ideas and take the risks necessary to achieve impact.
6. Support open innovation
Open innovation – sharing methodologies, data, hypotheses and outcomes – enables faster progress but can only work when there is a true spirit of collaboration in which everyone’s contribution is recognized and valued.
7. Embrace multidisciplinary research
Research groups can connect easily across the world. They must also reach outside their specialisms into other fields of expertise if we are to find new kinds of solutions to global health problems. The enormous potential that lies at the intersection between data and medical science is a clear example of how multidisciplinary thinking can deliver even more powerful results.
8. Patient empowerment needs validated information and data
We live in a connected world, surrounded by and producing data and knowledge constantly. Information about health and medicine is complex and we need to help people find the right information and better understand the options available to them so they can make better-informed decisions. The media has a role to play in what we understand about health and how we accept innovations in life science.
9. A ‘Bloomberg’ for research and innovation
Bloomberg is the home of data, analytical and information networks that give new visibility to business and finance activities. We need a version of this for emerging science and technology innovations.