The traditional definition of translation medicine focuses on translating medical advances from the laboratory to the bedside. However, at the Head and Neck Cancer Foundation, we have a different vision that begins by identifying a clinical need.
“We’re all about looking after patients, treating clinical conditions, getting some insight into where we’re providing good treatment, and understanding where we’re not, so we can work backward to fill a need,” says Professor Thomas Havas.
Although Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery is far from the glamour areas of science research, approximately every third visit to a General Practitioner is for an ENT-related issue. There is huge prevalence with massive community cost and treatments are often more profit-focused than problem-focused.
Professor Havas explains a practical application of this.
“About ten years ago, it started to become popular to wash your nose out with salt water spray. There’s no good evidence that it achieves anything and yet last year in America, Americans spent over $2000 million buying saltwater to wash their nose out with. It’s not science-based but profit-based and it’s usually the manufacturers of the saltwater spray who hire a couple of prominent Otolaryngologists with a significant financial incentive to spruik a product with little evidence backing it up,” he says.
The future School of Translational Medicine in Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery will focus on science-driven solutions to clinical needs as opposed to the current framework that is too often fear and economically driven. We will create an independent school with academic credibility, staffed by senior Otolaryngologists and researchers who appreciate that the hackneyed commercially-driven approach is no longer appropriate.
“The school will provide a grassroots approach ranging from common problems to innovative treatments for Head and Neck Cancer. It will be holistic and ecumenical, focused primarily on improving patient outcomes,” explains Professor Havas.
Another unique aspect of our school will be controlling the commercialisation process. While profit from medical advances is important, it needs to be reframed to become more eco-friendly. This means that a significant amount of profit will not only go to the individuals who own the intellectual property but will be used to support universities and to a lesser extent, hospitals.
“You don’t have to make obscene profits to make medical advances profitable.”
The Head and Neck Cancer Foundation Research Group is already engaging in a multi-disciplinary approach to research. We have been collaborating with biomedical engineers and other scientists for the last three years as evidenced by our research reports.
“What strikes me is that hitherto and in many other areas, how little interaction there is between biomedical engineers and clinicians generally. We bought half a dozen of these students into the operating room and they have never been in an operating room. They are intelligent, they have enormous skill bases that we as clinicians don’t have, but there has been no integrated vision or foresight in terms of bringing the two together,” says Professor Havas.
The School of Translational Medicine will be unique worldwide in its multidisciplinary, inter-disciplinary, problem-focused, and product development-focused approach. As a clinician-led school, it will also include basic scientists, biomedical engineers, and lawyers to teach students about both intellectual property and the commercialisation process.
“The quicker we can bring to market, the quicker it is at the bedside, and the quicker patients benefit,” says Professor Havas.