In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the biomedical community took on the task of developing and deploying critical interventions to address an unprecedented public health emergency. In a remarkable display of collective effort, stakeholders from government and industry came together to produce safe and effective mRNA vaccines as well as therapeutics– a groundbreaking achievement reached in record time. As the biomedical community looks to the future, government agencies have a tremendous opportunity to build on lessons learned and seize the momentum to accelerate biomedical innovation and attain beneficial public health and scientific outcomes. There is no shortage of health and research challenges to address.
Government leaders can continue to embrace their power to scale, speed and strengthen the biomedical research ecosystem by embracing three specific roles.
Role #1: Convene the Full Continuum of Stakeholders
Collaborative versus siloed research endeavors can yield results faster for patients. Public-private partnerships within the biomedical ecosystem have long prioritized the sharing of critical assets, expertise and knowledge. However, the COVID-19 response (best illustrated by the ACTIV partnership convened by the FNIH) revealed how successfully these partners can work together when equipped with the necessary resources. When fully optimized, partnerships can help reduce costs and speed time to market. Government can enable this optimization by identifying the right players, defining their roles, and providing critical resources.
These collaborators could benefit from working toward common goals and breaking down existing silos of information. The Cancer Moonshot, launched by the Obama-Biden Administration in 2016, and now led by President Biden serves as a formidable example. It aims to accelerate cancer research, prevention, diagnosis and treatment by improving and incentivizing collaboration across different sectors – and by removing traditional barriers between different organizations throughout the biomedical ecosystem. It also has a bird’s eye view of the system, something we don’t focus on enough.
Role #2: Focus on Patients and Communities
To spur innovation, government leaders should engage patients and provide key roles for them throughout the research process. Patients offer invaluable and unique insight into their conditions. They should be included in discussions and process mapping from the start – an effort that the government can help encourage.
One recent example of patient engagement comes from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL). Established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CEAL initiative seeks feedback from patients to address the disparities and challenges that exist in underserved and vulnerable communities. CEAL exemplifies the value and importance of community engagement and helps build the trust that’s necessary for an effective public health response effort. Crucially, it also aims to improve health equity.
Role #3: Fund Collaborative Infrastructure
With its substantial funding mechanisms and its wide range of programs, the government is well-positioned to address major ecosystem challenges. But government’s previous methods to incentivize innovation and biomedical research don’t meet today’s growing needs.
Budgets matter and studies have shown that targeted, disease-specific public research funding influences the private sector to increase funding as well. The government can also offer researchers the resources needed to take giant leaps and, if necessary, provide safe environments to fail and quickly recalibrate. Endeavors such as the newly created Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) foster a culture of experimentation and risk-taking, which spurs research, development and testing of transformational technologies and medicines.
The Promising Path Ahead
While the biomedical research ecosystem comprises a complex network of interconnected stakeholders, effective collaboration between government, industry and academia can and has driven noteworthy accomplishments in biomedical research and public health. Working together, the research community can realize unparalleled innovation by dedicating the proper resources to collaboration and ensuring that patients’ voices are not just heard but valued – ensuring the government can serve as a significant catalyst.
About Margaret Anderson
Margaret Anderson is a managing director at Deloitte Consulting LLP, where she focuses on advancing treatments and interventions for patients and helping improve the outcomes and efficiency of healthcare research and delivery systems. She currently serves on President Biden’s National Cancer Advisory Board and sits on the boards of the ACT for the NIH Foundation, the Allen Institute, FasterCures, and Friends of Cancer Research.