Medical Devices: From Research to ProductPosted: July 23, 2012
Copyright 2012, written by Will Blesch
In an article published in the Seattle Times, NIH head Francis Collins was quoted as saying concerning the agency, “there is a “yawning gap” between discovery and product, and the agency has moved toward bridging that gap.”
Mr. Collins was referencing a new $65 million dollar grant awarded by the NIH to the University of Washington to help turn lab research into practical, useful medical devices and other medical products.
While this sounds great on the surface, one has to wonder why the government is using one of its agencies to create, effectively, competition with the private sector.
Shouldn’t the NIH limit its funding strictly to research?
Isn’t it slightly distressing that the public has no idea whether the grant awarded to the University of Washington (or any other research institution) was or was not awarded with a particular agenda in mind?
How do any privately held medical device companies, biotechs or pharmaceuticals know that this $65 million grant won’t be used to bring medical devices and products to the market that directly compete with devices and products already in development by private firms?
There is already legitimate criticism of many aspects of the NIH’s funding policies.
For instance the NIH, through its peer-review system used to rank proposals, can skew the direction of dollars it has toward research that fits specifically within a particular paradigm.
The NIH hands out over $20 billion every year. However, its funding decisions are incredibly slow and there has long been criticism that it favors recognized researchers and conservative approaches.
Individual scientists, biotechnology companies and other medical start-ups on the cutting edge are often denied funding by the NIH. Yet, throughout history it has been the new blood willing to take risks that bring about radical, new breakthroughs in science…including tremendous medical advances.
Private biotechs, medical device firms, start-up pharmaceuticals and even individual scientists work on very valid research and many are left to rely strictly on the private sector for funding.
However, when given adequate funding, these institutions and individuals are often able to move faster than their academic counterparts in university related departments. They are not as held back by academic or governmental red tape.
Personally, I applaud the fact that the NIH has given this grant to UW. Practical results in the world of medical devices, and other medical products, from publicly funded research really do need to be forthcoming.
Discoveries and inventions should absolutely be moved out of laboratories and into the hands of people who can obtain something good from them.
But this is too little!
The NIH needs to stop being so conservative…so slow. And, you know, here’s the thing.
If the NIH is going to jump into funding more than mere research through its grants then those in leadership positions should do one of two things.
1) Begin looking at setting up its own Fund similar to an investment fund etc. that is used specifically to create a governmental stake in various biotechnology start-ups that are unrelated to universities…which is super creepy….
2) The NIH should just start funding a little more liberally… in directions that are not always so well established. It should revamp its system of evaluating proposals and streamline things in order to make the entire process from proposal to funding much, much faster. Give new blood an equal chance to bring exciting, new research to the scientific community and that in turn translates into marketable medical devices and products that benefit humanity…at an accelerated pace!
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