The Cross-Border Biotech Blog

Biotechnology, Health and Business in Canada, the United States and Worldwide

Trends, Trends Everywhere: Random Gloating II

Katie Hood, CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, has an interesting piece up at Huffington Post that relates to our Trends post on foundation funding for commercialization.

Overall, her view is pretty bleak, and the conclusion is hardly conclusive (“We need to take an honest look at the medical research enterprise to assess what’s working and what’s not. Are players’ incentives aligned? Do risks match reward?“) but there are some interesting ideas in there that I’d like to follow up on a bit.

One: We’re in the midst of a sea change in biotech, created by the fact that

[a]s technical and innovation expertise migrates to start-ups — many of whom don’t talk to each other, let alone to pharmaceutical companies –positive and negative outcomes from early applied work cannot be shared and understood as clearly as it was when the vast majority of R&D took place under Big Pharma’s collective roof.

This is a great observation about the shifting investment trends in biotech, but I don’t think it’s a radical departure, so much as an extension of trends toward compartmentalization and secrecy that have existed for a long time as policies and businesses try to balance between preserving proprietary interests and the benefits of information sharing.  Foundations (including the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Progeria Research Foundation, which I mentioned in my previous post) have had some of the best approaches to creating and maintaining information sharing environments among a decentralized/ contract-based/virtual research team.  The approaches include online data sharing, regular closed meetings and contractual approaches to strike the right balance when funding grants.

Two:

In an era of change, we may need to reconsider a more deliberate role for the public sector in driving discovery into development, and potentially through the first stages of what has been traditionally viewed as “commercial” development.

I’ll definitely second that view.  In fact, I think we’ve seen some examples of the public sector stepping into that gap — the Ontario Venture Capital Fund and NYC Seed are prominent examples.  (Okay, okay, I went to U of C, so weigh the usual caveats here about public sector market distortions against the demonstrable effectiveness of the existing public mechanisms for funding basic research and decide where you think these new initiatives fall on that spectrum.  Since the public funds are using private sector decision makers the way that public research funding relies on independent scientists to make allocative decisions, I think the parallel is appropriate.)

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