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October 11, 2016

Translational research for doctors is here

The past two weeks my tour of duty has taken me back to the bedrock of human health research in Kenya. That is where my medical practice and research began quarter of a decade ago. I looked forward to linking up with old friends in the field of malaria, Tuberculosis and HIV research care and treatment. The reality in terms of knowledge has shifted massively, however, the disease burden still remain high. While there have been major scientific breakthroughs, this has not translated directly into new treatments available to patients.

The reason for going back to the field was dual, one for fact finding, while the other was to introduce a new approach of integrated research and clinical practice with public health principles- Translational Research. This is intended to achieve three goals in one, thus to discover new knowledge, to apply the knowledge immediately and to reduce the disease burden in measurable ways.

During several meetings with wananchi, the big question was: Why have the many research findings taking so long to affect healthcare? And how can we make sure

that the time between the completion of research and availability and application of new knowledge is the right amount?

Researchers estimate that on average, it takes 17 years for research to reach clinical practice and another 5 to 10 years to make meaningful impact at population level.

But elapsed time can also be beneficial — no one would argue against taking time to ensure that a new treatment is safe and effective.

It has been shown that increasing resources, improving processes and researchers working in parallel with policy makers and care givers would all help.

From researchers perspective, concerns about patents and intellectual property are some of the unspoken considerations that may cause delays

The process of creating new medicines is complex, time-consuming, and costly. Moving a potential therapy from concept to market can take between 10 and 15 years and cost developers as much as $1 billion. Indeed, industry also bears the cost of failure: For every drug that ultimately succeeds, some 5,000 to 10,000 compounds don't make it through the process.

Wolfgang Goethe was certainly not thinking of translational research when he wrote: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do”. His words nonetheless neatly encapsulate the essence of translational research: the transition from knowledge to its application.

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