Director's Blog - 16 December 2019 - Lost in Translation...

Lost in Translationcould be the theme of much of Australian biomedical research: In Australia, particularly here in the Parkville biomedical precinct, we punch above our weight when it comes to the quality and output of our scientific publications – were world class at so called basicor fundamental research, but were a bit lost when it comes to translation.

We know what it is. We know we ought to do it. But the howis the challenge and it calls for a mind and culture change in the Australian research community. This was a sobering, but not altogether surprising finding from an analysis that our Bio21 colleague, Professor Andrew Wilks of SYNthesis, presented at a recent precinct forum at WEHI:

“Working with my colleague Maggie Lieu from Clarivate Analytics we determined that the Parkville Precinct ranks 3rd (!) In the world, behind San Diego, Stanford and San Francisco, but ahead of other Life Science Clusters such as Boston (!) And Cambridge, UK. Our spin-out culture however is woeful:  there are 120 start-ups located within 1 square mile in Boston’s Kendall Square, whereas you can count the start-ups within the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct on your hands. We are good at the discovery stuff, but very poor at the translation,” he said.

“Working with my colleague Maggie Lieu from Clarivate Analytics, we asked a simple question: ‘How does our productivity in the life sciences compare with other research precincts, such as Boston, San Diego or Cambridge UK?’ The approach was to ask ’How many citations have papers published by Parkville scientists, and how many scientists contributed to those papers?’ Simply by dividing the number of citations by the number of scientists we defined a crude metric for comparing each of these life science precincts. For the spin-out activity, we simply counted the number of companies created in the sector in the last 20 years.”

The US and European countries have been more willing to commercialise their research findings and we have much to learn from them.

A Focus Group is Formed

As a first step to addressing the howa Melbourne Therapeutics Development Leadership Group(MTD-LG) was formed with the support of the State Government through Gareth Goodier who was the Executive Chair of the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct that was run out of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet. The group had its first meeting at this time two years ago. The founding members were Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) (Chris Porter, Bill Charman), Centre for Drug Candidates Optimisation (CDCO) (Sue Charman), UoM Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutic Department (Danny 

Hoyer), CRC for Cancer Therapeutics CTx (Ian Street, Brett Carter), SynMedChem (Andrew Wilks), BioCurate (Glenn Begley), Florey Institute (Ross Bathgate), WEHI (Doug Hilton, Guillaume Lessene) and Bio21 (myself). It has now expanded to include Cell Therapies, Florey, Certara, Peter Mac, The Murdoch Children Research Institute (MCRI), Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) and CSL. Its great to see Bio21 industry members CSL and SYNthesis|SynMedChem actively contributing.

This precinct-based focus group is for organisations with interests in therapeutic development of small molecules, biologics and cell therapies. The group aims to harness the critical mass of expertise, skills and infrastructure within the precinct to promote and catalyse activity in therapeutic development, raise awareness, share expertise and provide a common landing point for potential collaborators. There is a lot of work to be done!

Chris Porter, Co-Chair writes: “… we aim to promote our competitiveness with other international therapeutic discovery and development hubs.”

With two representatives per organisation, membership of the focus group is open to organisations directly involved in one or more aspects of the discovery and development of new therapeutics, including those involved in the small molecule development pipeline and development of biologics and cell-based therapies, from target identification and validation to clinical evaluation. The 3-monthly meetings are co-chaired by Prof. Christopher Porter (MIPS) and Assoc. Prof. Guillaume Lessene (WEHI).

The aims are:

•          To develop a long-term vision for drug discovery and development at the precinct level

•          To assess the strengths and weaknesses of the precinct in the area of drug discovery and development

•          To represent drug discovery at the precinct level and serve as point of contact for precinct-wide initiatives

•          To develop precinct-wide policies that facilitate drug discovery and development activities

•          To identify and jointly apply for local, federal or international funding opportunities to support precinct-wide initiatives that benefit the whole drug discovery community

•          To foster inter-organisational partnerships and collaborations

•          To promote/develop joint programs that develop translation, entrepreneurship and innovation, especially aimed at university students

•          To drive talent development and retention

•          To work together to foster an emphasis on data quality and integrity so the precinct becomes recognised as a world-leader in scientific reproducibility

•          To advocate the strengths of the precinct in drug discovery

A Survey

One of the first initiatives of the group was an information-gathering exercise: in conjunction with the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct Office (MBPO), it conducted a survey in May 2019 to capture information on all the active biomedical organisations in Melbourne, including Bio21. The purpose of the survey was to establish the scope and scale of capabilities in the therapeutics development sector and to identify areas where strategic investment would strengthen our position as a world leading precinct.

In particular, it was an attempt to capture major equipment/infrastructure that might benefit potential collaborators. The survey results are intended to be made publicly available via the Melbourne Therapeutic Development - Leadership Group website in the future.

A Symposium: Innovation to Translation! Symposium 2019

Another great initiative that has arisen out the focus group was the recent: Innovation to Translation! Symposium 2019 in the Melbourne Biomedical Precinctevent on the 21st November at WEHI.

The meeting, organised by and for early to middle career researchers across the precinct, showcased local success stories, precinct capabilities, opportunities for collaboration and mentorship opportunities. Attendees heard from speakers about commercialisation, licencing and spin-out successes. There was also one session where major precinct partners (WEHI, CSL, MIPS, PMCC) were asked to talk about capabilities and where I was asked to speak about the platforms at Bio21 in a 15 minute snapshot.

Bio21, with its platform facilities and infrastructure, and with the help our industry tenants, has a key role to play in creating the right environment for translation, particularly in relation to drug development in the Precinct.