Closing the Gap
Translating scientific discoveries into clinical therapeutics is a necessity to deal with rising rates of disease and disability.
The term "translational science" itself is troublesome. This increasingly trendy term is often used to talk about a specific field of science or type of scientist. But according to many of the scientists featured in this cover story, translational science is best thought of as a process: the long, complex process of making scientific discoveries and, through additional research and clinical trials, turning those discoveries into viable therapeutics targeted to specific disease states.
This process involves many people, much money, and, admittedly, some failure. Consider the following quote: "Translation of biomedical research into safe and effective clinical applications remains a slow, expensive, and failure-prone endeavor."
The words of an incurable pessimist? Not quite; these words were written by NIH Director Francis S. Collins in a commentary in Science Translational Medicine in July 2011. Collins' assessment is not unfair: for a new drug, the average length of time from target discovery to approval is approximately 13 years, and the vast majority of compounds fail or are abandoned at some point during testing, after a staggeringly high investment into their development.
It is not surprising then, that new ways of bringing about translation are being taken up by leading scientific organizations, including the NIH and the New York Academy of Sciences, both of which recently introduced new initiatives. These initiatives represent more than new ideas and, in some cases, new buildings: they represent real-life efforts to connect and support the many scientists and medical professionals from diverse backgrounds and fields of study who, through their work, make translation happen.
With such efforts on the horizon, the outlook for translational science is improving; it has to, according to many experts. The reimagining of how translation happens is not only a lofty goal, but a societal necessity to deal with rising rates of disease and disability.
On the following pages, we take a look at the issue of translational science from a variety of perspectives: academia, industry, government, and yes, even Hollywood, helping us to explore translation through the widest possible lens.