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Why we need entrepreneurship + translational medicine

Matthew T. Keener, MD on June 06, 2014

As part of the Kauffman-sponsored Energizing Health Collaboration Series, we've turned over eMed to Guest Editor Matt Keener, the chief architect for the Pittsburgh leg of the collaboration conference and a translational clinical neuroscientist. Here's Matt's latest contribution in his role as eMed Guest Editor.


In the translational medicine space -- where medical research is "translated" into health tools and solutions for patients -- the majority of engaged physicians are either biomedical researchers interested in advancing our understanding of the basic science, or are practicing doctors who want to improve clinical practice while focusing on patient care.

The number of physicians who receive training in understanding this translational research space is few, and even fewer are those who are able to take this skill set into the market to develop new technologies based off this understanding.

Despite the fact that successful companies like Medtronic have a significant portion of physician-driven innovations,  there is not currently a robust movement to teach, train, or recruit translational researchers into the process of developing new solutions.

There are several factors leading to this which include the lack of training mechanisms to support those interested in innovation, a loss of those innovators from the academic training environment,  as well as the very real need to minimize and manage conflicts of interest.

Unfortunately this can then result in a divide between those scientists who are looking to translate science findings to patient care, and those who have "nothing to disclose," (ie. those with no financial ties to therapies or conflicts of interest).  In fact, when you come from an academic background like me, you're often viewed as "going to the dark side" if you collaborate with industry or set off to develop solutions for your patients. The safe bet for our best and brightest, saddled by medical school debt, is to avoid all ties with commercial entities.

For the most part, this is fine. For the most part, we need doctors overseeing patient care and not building businesses. The incentive of academic researchers should be aligned toward finding the underlying biological truth and not finding a pathway to market.

That said, as the delivery of high-quality, low-cost healthcare becomes ever more critical to our national health and national economy, and the science of health becomes more complex, we need innovators with a real grasp of the evolving state of the science in facilitating the movement of treatments "from benchtop to bedside."

This translation of medical science to clinical care, translational medicine, is a movement I've always aspired to make matter to patients today -- and that's why I've chosen to become an entrepreneur during this critical time period.

I stepped out of full-time academia to create my company, emodt, to bring the science of emotional health to individuals today, not in decades. In the emotional health space, we're still hung up on an outdated framework: the patient describes her symptoms, which only when they match a given set of criteria, she receives a diagnosis. She then receives a treatment that has been shown to work against only this particular cluster of symptoms, regardless of the underlying biology and the variety of symptoms it may generate.

But through a deeper understanding of the underlying neuroscience, we're not only helping people manage these defined, diagnosable symptom clusters, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Rather we're addressing each person's challenges in personalized, biologically-relevant manner that aligns with what is being discovered every day in the lab. Notably, we're not waiting for the science to be perfected, as we know this is decades off. So we begin with an evidence-based model, but gather ongoing evidence as we go, to re-inform the product and our understanding of emotional health. We hope to craft the next generation of science research while at the same time creating new solutions.

Category:  Ideation  Tags:  guest, translational medicine

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