“I want you to imagine that you’re recovering from a heart attack. You’re at home thinking about the large scar on your heart,” said Daria Mochly-Rosen, PhD, a professor of chemical and systems biology at Stanford, in her presentation at TEDMED 2015.
“Now imagine your frustration when you find out that there’s a new drug that can reduce heart scarring by more than 50 percent. But you can not use this drug. It was discovered in a university and never progressed to human studies.”
And now imagine university researchers and drug industry experts working together to avoid just such a predicament.
This kind of collaboration is what Mochly-Rosen asked her audience to consider as she described SPARK, the translational research program she founded 10 years ago at Stanford to close the chasm between academia’s discovery machine and industry’s drug development machine.
The training program helps researchers identify experiments to confirm their original observations, carry out proof of concept studies, design development paths for the drug and set up small clinical studies.
During her talk at the annual health and medicine conference, Mochly-Rosen told of some of SPARK’s successes. Among them: More than two dozen of the projects have launched start-ups or been licensed to existing companies. Meanwhile, other institutions are using SPARK as a template for incubators of their own, with new programs not only in the United States but in Australia, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Singapore, South Korean and Taiwan.
She wrapped up the TEDMED presentation by describing the "secret sauce" that makes the program work. One of the five ingredients is open exchange. How do you make that work? "If you want people to cooperate you bring them into one room and you give them some food. Heated arguments are welcome."
And about that heart drug in the beginning of her talk? That was a discovery in her own lab. It failed to catch the pharmaceutical industry's interest, so she went on to found her own company to develop the drug. That experience inspired her to found SPARK.
Previously: SPARKing a global movement, At TEDMED 2015: Thinking about “breaking through” the valley of death in science and At TEDMED 2015: Behind the glitz, substantive issues
Video courtesy of TEDMED