Factors of Successful Translational Research

Close collaboration between basic scientists and clinicians is the key to the efficient translation of medical research findings. This was the conclusion of a prestigious panel of experts with Professor Hrabĕ de Angelis, member of the board of the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), which discussed the topic “Translation: How Can We Accelerate the Translation of Research Findings into Clinical Practice?” at the Innovation Forum 2013 in Berlin. The discussion took place during the Capital City Congress of Medicine and Health in Berlin on June 7, 2013.


Renowned researchers from science and industry were invited to the Capital City Congress, which was moderated by Prof. Heyo Krömer, Dean of the University Medical Center Göttingen, in order to discuss the causes for the inadequate transfer of research findings into day-to-day medical practice and to identify solutions for the future. For a long time, translational medical research was firmly in the hands of the pharmaceutical industry, which successfully took up scientific discoveries early on and developed them into effective drugs and products of medical technology. However, this process of rapid and successful transfer of research results into clinical practice has increasingly faltered in recent years.

Panelists from research and industry
The panel included two representatives of the German Centres for Health Research (DZG): Prof. Martin Hrabĕ de Angelis, who is member of the board of the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD) as well as director of the Institute of Experimental Genetics at Helmholtz Zentrum München and chair of Experimental Genetics at TU München, and Prof. Otmar Wiestler, speaker of the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK) and chairman of the board of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg. In recent years, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has founded six German Centres for Health Research (DZGs). Their mission is to rapidly transfer the research findings concerning widespread, common diseases such as diabetes or cancer into clinical practice.
Another member of the panel on the podium was Prof. Ernst Rietschel, chairman of the board of the newly founded Berlin Institute of Health (BIH). The standpoint of industry was represented by Prof. Andreas Busch, member of the Bayer Healthcare Executive Committee, and Prof. Hermann Requardt, CEO of the healthcare sector at Siemens AG.

Integrated approach needed
The panel agreed that only an integrative approach combining various research disciplines would be able to decipher the complex processes underlying many diseases. Therefore, only an intensive exchange of basic researchers and clinicians can lead to treatment strategies that will be available to benefit patients in medical practices and hospitals as soon as possible. With the DZGs, in which clinical researchers at universities and basic researchers in non-university research institutions have joined together to carry out translational research, the BMBF has set the course on a national level. Initial research results of the DZGs demonstrate that the founding of the DZGs was the right step and needs to be expanded. Hrabĕ de Angelis pointed out: “Research in Europe must collaborate more closely in order to pursue creative interdisciplinary approaches and to maintain a globally relevant critical mass of research.”
However, patients, too, increasingly play a major role in the design of future treatments. Joined together in patient organizations, they exert pressure on politicians to financially strengthen research into individual diseases and to assume costs for innovative treatments at an early stage.

Analysis of medical data
Another starting point for successful translation in research, according to the experts, can be found in the wealth of medical data generated in complex diagnostic procedures in day-to-day clinical practice. To date, these have hardly been available for scientific purposes. “Currently, the field of medicine is experiencing a period of great upheaval due to new technologies such as whole genome sequencing of the patient or advanced imaging technologies. Huge amounts of data are being collected, the analysis of which will provide new insights about diseases and their successful treatment,” said Hrabĕ de Angelis, pointing out one of the great challenges. Apart from national data protection provisions, the fact that this wealth of data has not been analyzed sufficiently is primarily due to the lack of qualified personnel that can develop algorithms to analyze such immense amounts of complex data.
Nevertheless, Hrabĕ de Angelis is optimistic about the future: “In the future, if my children ever need medical help, personalized prevention and treatment measures derived from huge amounts of data will be considered standard.”