NIH Director Francis Collins' 5 Critical Pathways for Science

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In an exclusive interview for the July issue of the Forbes/Wolfe Emerging Tech Report, NIH Director Francis Collins outlined what he considers the critical pathways for the future of health sciences. Below are his five areas of exceptional opportunity for the next decade.

1. The application of high-throughput technologies to large biology projects has the potential to comprehensively answer fundamental questions about how life works. That includes genomics, but it also includes nanotechnology, imaging approaches, proteomics, and computational strategies to allow us to be much more systematic in assessing mechanisms than before. In the past, we had to take a hunch, pick a candidate gene, and draw a cartoon. Those days are gone. Now we can be faster and more thorough, and we're often surprised when the answers aren't where we expected.

2. Rational drug design based on structural information is the next frontier. The academic investigator field is essential for the critical mission to translate the deluge of information we get from the academic world into real forms of treatment. We must push that therapeutic agenda on the academic field, which often stops at basic science discovery and does not move into translation. We need to provide the tools to make that move from science to treatment possible. This is where chemistry and translational research are crucial - areas that have been largely the province of the private sector in the past. Now, there's both a diminution of research and development investments in the private sector and a profound surge of new targets emerging from the basic science. I think there is also an increasing interest from academia to play a more significant role in the therapeutic development pathway - we have the chance to make that happen.

3. The development of the science of healthcare reform will be critical to provide the evidence necessary for our healthcare system to focus more effectively on good outcomes and reduced costs. This can mean focusing on everything from comparative effectiveness to personalized medicine and pharmaco-genetics. We have tools that provide us with an increasing understanding of the individual. Now, we must shift our attention to how we can use that information for prevention and for choosing the best therapies for those who need treatment.

4. Global health is a priority that we can help to speed by de-risking projects to make them more attractive to the private sector. We understand the basic nature of certain pathogens that cause illness for hundreds of millions, yet a lack of economic incentives has resulted in few developed therapeutics for these conditions. By de-risking some of those projects and speeding up the process, the private sector can begin to fill this critical gap.

5. Our own biomedical research community must be empowered and invigorated so they can chase after innovative ideas and recruit the next generation of investigators. The USA Science and Engineering Festival also kicks in here. We're hoping that it will be an opportunity for young people to find out why this is such an exciting time in science, so those with curiosity and some vision can pursue these myriad opportunities. We must foster innovation and interest in the sciences by sustaining funding, encouraging young scientists, and facilitating innovative research.

~~written by Hilary Tuttle on Forbes Wolfe blog

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I will be sure to spread the word on this festival, it looks like a great idea!