U.S. biomedical research faces a serious problem: It takes far too long—up to 17 years by conservative estimates—to move new ideas from basic research into medical practice. The slow crawl of innovation means longer waits for patients who need potentially life-saving treatments and therapies.
William Trochim, professor of policy analysis and management and director of evaluation at the Weill Cornell Clinical and Translational Science Center, is leading Cornell’s efforts to accelerate the delivery of promising findings from bench to bedside. Established in 2008 with a $49 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Institutes of Health, the center joins a national consortium of medical research institutions trying to overcome delays in the research process.
“Congress and our society see huge investments we have made in research in the past and are asking why so little of it actually gets used,” Trochim said. “The problem is we have different systems for basic research, clinical research to test new innovations in humans, and medical practice, where treatments actually reach patients and improve public health. We need to find ways to have these systems work more effectively together.”
Cornell researchers, along with CTSA partners across the country, are creating interdisciplinary teams early on, identifying the best practices for managing clinical trials, and investigating ways to synthesize new information more efficiently. Trochim monitors Cornell’s efforts, regularly sharing his findings with hundreds of CTSA researchers.
“Without that role, these centers would be driving with a blindfold on,” he said.
To date, Cornell researchers have identified several main reasons that contribute to the delays.
First, basic researchers often focus on specialized areas and may struggle to connect with scientists outside their disciplines, resulting in minimal cooperation between basic researchers and the clinicians who will test their ideas and the practitioners who will use their discoveries with patients.
Once it’s time to test new treatments, clinical trials are beset by numerous obstacles in recruitment and retainment. (According to one estimate, some 70 percent of ongoing clinical trials in the U.S. will never be completed because they are unable to recruit adequate participants.) Finally, for innovations that advance past clinical trials, it takes about nine years to synthesize the results of multiple studies and summarize the findings in a format that can be used by medical professionals.
“We are talking about a problem that is fundamentally rooted in people and systems, so it makes perfect sense that Human Ecology is working at the center of it,” Trochim said. “What happens after researchers at Weill Cornell publish these studies that come out over the course of their career? I am looking at all of the steps in the process.”
In his role, Trochim is also actively seeking ways to connect researchers on Cornell’s Ithaca and New York City campuses to speed along biomedical innovation.
“This is very much a cross-campus initiative,” he explained. “And that’s important. It is going to take a lot of people working in a lot of areas to address these problems.”