Building an Advanced Technology Research Initiative
I have participated in the symbolic turning of a shovel of dirt to begin some important projects during my academic career, but none more meaningful to me than one this past Wednesday. I had the distinct honor of participating in the ground breaking ceremony for a new research facility, not just a laboratory construction project, but the manifestation of an Advanced Technology Partnerships Initiative (ATPI) and the beginning of a new era to expand drug and technology development using public, private, and academic partnerships. For NCI and the larger cancer community, this research park represents an opportunity to co-locate private sector research and development programs, biotechnology partners, and academic collaborators on a research campus dedicated to reducing the cancer burden.
As I said at the ceremony, during a recent visit and tour of NCI, a leader of a prominent cancer advocacy group was impressed by the exciting work supported by NCI and the individuals leading these various projects. He remarked how they clearly come to work each day committed to "owning the cure." That's just what the ATPI and the construction of this new facility are about: Taking a proactive approach to accelerate progress against cancer, not just by funding and conducting the research, but also by establishing the platforms - in this case, state-of-the-art technology and drug development platforms - to turn that research into effective interventions as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Indeed, while this will be a building constructed to facilitate cancer science, the ATPI will take advantage of NCI-Frederick's capabilities as one of only 38 Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC). Using the FFRDC capabilities, the ATPI will expand collaborations with a variety of private companies and institutes to develop new agents, new diagnostics, and new ways of monitoring response to therapy and then carry them forward to first-in-human studies; and to find ways to work together to create new ideas. Even before the first thrust of the shovel, NCI had already established the first collaborative agreement under this program with GE Global Research to develop nanoparticles for use as diagnostic imaging agents.
We know well from discussions with both large and small private-sector companies and academic investigators that what NCI can provide under the ATPI is access to cutting-edge, often costly technologies that are not readily available in the research community. Partnerships will flow from access to these technologies and the expertise required to operate them.
Under the ATPI, for example, NCI will collaborate with partners to test the optimal use of new technologies in cancer research, or to aid start-up biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies that have received small business grants by providing the expertise and equipment needed to characterize their investigational agents or manufacture pharmaceutical-grade agents for use in human trials.
What the new facility, in particular, will provide is a tremendous opportunity to expand training capabilities. With the space and expertise available in a single facility, we can significantly enhance our ability to teach the next generation of scientists how to use new and emerging technologies, a process that they can then repeat at their home institutions.
NCI is already making inroads in working with the private sector to facilitate clinical trials involving multiple targeted therapies, using phase 0 and phase I trials to help the most promising agents move forward into later-stage clinical trials, and developing new funding mechanisms to help small businesses survive the often tumultuous road of commercializing their products.
We are answering the challenges of 21st century biomedical research, of how we think of competition, of cooperation, of collaboration, of intellectual property, and even the language of contracts. The ATPI and the new research facility will greatly enhance NCI's ability to attract partners to work together with our institute by sharing scientific resources and tools - creating a Brookings Institution-like entity that brings together today's scientific minds as a "think tank" for innovation.
Collectively, the shovel full of dirt and the many expectations it symbolizes are based on the premise that we cannot wait for scientific discovery to occur. Rather, we have to provide avenues and novel opportunities across the research and development spectrum to ensure that it does occur. The American people expect nothing less.