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Based at The University of Edinburgh, the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum is part of the ESRC Genomics Network and pioneers new ways to promote and communicate social research on the contemporary life sciences.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Convergence and Divergence

Plenary Two: Health and Biomedicine in an Age of Convergence

Blog from Global Forum On Biotechnology - The Evolving Promise Of The Life Sciences

Convergence and divergence were key themes of this OECD session on Monday morning which anticipated genomics developments in health and biomedicine.  Vicky Seyfert-Margolis (Senior Advisor for Science Innovation and Policy, FDA) spoke about the FDA's mandate to promote innovation to public health within the context of an innovation ecosystem that is under significant stress.  Seyfert-Margolis attributed this, in part, to a flawed model of translation which focuses too much on the academic drivers of tenure and promotion which reward an individual rather than team-based efforts: a different, portfolio approach is needed to get products to market.  She argued that regulatory science is under-served as an academic discipline and that we need better tools for translation which force us to think harder and smarter about how to move the academy and government forward together in a way that involves patients - not as human research subjects - but as engaged partners.

Hans-Georg Eichler (EMA) described technology and policy as uneasy bed fellows.  He too spoke about the need to bring the patient voice on board but reminded the audience that patients and consumers constitute fundamentally different categories with different priorities and perspectives. In his view, clinical development is expensive because we use antiquated technology.  This was a case where we could make better use of existing tools and greater use of electronic trials but this would require better alignment - convergence - of technology and policy.


Robert Urban (David H Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, MIT) reminded us that innovation went beyond simply knowledge creation but often resulted from convergence at the interfaces between disparate disciplines.  This process of confluence over time helps to move us from knowledge to know-how but, as for the preceding speakers, he saw regulatory science as a key component of this complex, multi-faceted process.

In reporting on a study commissioned by the OECD Working Party on Biotechnology, Steve Sturdy (Genomics Forum, University of Edinburgh) discussed some of the drivers and barriers for promoting genomics for public health in the areas of stratified medicine and infectious diseases.  Importantly, he reminded us that this is not always a case of convergence: his study found significantly diverging views between countries depending on their stage of economic development.

The future of health and biomedicine in an age of convergence, in Urban's words, is likely to be "Personalised, predictive, preventative and participatory".

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