Building Back Better: Re-envisioning the biomedical research ecosystem [Town hall webinar, July 22 2020]

In an effort to capitalize on the unanticipated disruption of the “normal” way of doing science, HRA invites you to think creatively about how things could be different during a town hall meeting entitled “Building Back Better: Re-envisioning the biomedical research ecosystem.”  Think about the questions below and come prepared to add to the conversation!

Moderator:                      Marc Hurlbert, Melanoma Research Alliance
Setting the Stage:         Susan Fitzpatrick,  James S. McDonnell Foundation
Leadoff discussant       Lynne Garner,  The Donaghue Foundation

Recent events have shaken our society and the way we live, work, and relate to each other, but have also created space for us to reflect and imagine things differently. Over the past decade, there have been increasing concerns that the structure and funding of biomedical research has created a set of perverse incentives and rewards valuing productivity over true progress.

The goal of the town hall meeting is to learn from each other how we can effect change, redefine what progress is, and create a healthier biomedical ecosystem. Let’s rethink the structure of basic research, reimagine clinical trials, or patient-based research, and even consider that a typical grantee institution doesn’t have to be the traditional academic medical center.

  • Have you taken time during the shutdown to begin to reimagine the way research is funded at your organization?
  • If so, what changes have you made to foster a new way of thinking about research?
  • If you haven’t made any changes yet, what are you thinking/planning?
  • Have you heard from any researchers how they are re-imagining the future?

Setting the Stage:

Some thought-provoking pre-reading.
– Saving Science.  Science isn’t self-correcting, it’s self-destructing. To save the enterprise, scientists must come out of the lab and into the real world.
– Asking the Right Questions in Alzheimer’s Research. If the United States is the world’s innovation leader, it must lead the way on new directions in aging and neurodegeneration research.

Biomedical research is a vast multi-dimensional ecosystem ranging from studies with single cells to entire populations across time scales from milliseconds to decades. Private funding organizations are an essential component of the system, serving as an alternative source of funds to government agencies so that a diversity of ideas and approaches can be pursued.
Over the past decade, there have been increasing concerns that the structure and funding of biomedical research has created a set of perverse incentives and rewards valuing artificial metrics of productivity over true progress. The study of disease models and the designing of vast suites of tools and techniques have proven to be useful for generating data and publications, yet have been less successful in leading to the development of the interventions so drastically needed against serious and devastating diseases. Clinical trials are expensive, cumbersome, and slow. The medical care delivery system, fragmented and difficult to access, is often at odds with its own aims. The biomedical research enterprise is a large, stable system and large, stable systems do not change easily. Recent events, however, uncovered brittleness and fragilities in the system.

We are at a deeply uncomfortable moment in time. However we hope recent events may provide a shock that allows novel ideas and approaches to be introduced and tried so we can move forward in new and different ways, in better alignment with our goals and our values. Private philanthropy is uniquely positioned to try new ways of doing things on a small scale, with potential to refine and eventually scale up to the scale of government funding. We hope you will join us in imagining what a new research ecosystem might look like. We see this moment as a rare opportunity for HRA member organizations to re-evaluate goals and strategies and imagine a future of biomedical research that is:
• Responsive to patient and societal needs
• Humane to its workforce at every career level
• Cooperative and sharing rather than competitive and proprietary
• Creative and thoughtful, focusing on what matters rather than what can be produced
• Equitable across race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and other demographic differences