Investing in tomorrow's leading scientists

A report recently released by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) suggests that the lack of clinicians and scientists in the area of oncology is an imminent challenge that is set to have repercussions for the American healthcare system in the next decade.

However, this is not a challenge the U.S. faces alone. Given the aging global population and the increasing incidence of cancer, the shortfall in healthcare professionals is already affecting healthcare systems worldwide. The global cancer burden has doubled over the last 25 years and is set to double again before 2030, putting enormous pressure on healthcare systems trying to meet ever-increasing demand. This may inevitably translate into limited access to adequate care and treatments for patients with cancer.

To tackle the global challenge of a shortage of specialist physicians, a number of approaches have been put forward by international bodies, including a focused effort by the World Health Organization (WHO) to direct investment into training and support of health workers, and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) programmes aiming to enhance integration and improve productivity in healthcare systems. Alongside this, the academic community has called for comprehensive public-private partnerships in a recently published State of Oncology report.

As society grapples with the increasing burden of cancer, is there a role for the pharmaceutical industry to contribute to developing “human capital” to help address the imminent shortage of scientists and clinicians in the field? We posed this question to Juan Carlos Lopez, Head of Academic Relations & Collaborations (ARC) at Roche, and asked how the company is investing in the future careers of scientists.

Juan Carlos Lopez

Role of Roche and the pharmaceutical industry

According to Juan Carlos, pharmaceutical companies have a role to play in fostering future talent. “Whilst the formation of human capital has historically been viewed as a remit of academic institutions, the role of pharmaceutical companies in this space has increased dramatically with the rise of translational research,” he explained. With its vast experience in bringing medicines to healthcare systems worldwide, Roche understands the complicated process from basic research to clinical development, providing academia with an opportunity to learn from its experience in this setting. As universities cannot always offer practical experience in this field, this has allowed the pharmaceutical industry and academia to work together to create a platform where both can interact together to foster the development of future scientists.

Direct investment in future talent

One example of such interaction is the Roche Postdoc Fellowship (RPF) programme, an initiative under the remit of Economic Relations and Collaborations group. With the ambition to build and maintain scientific leadership for the creation of innovative healthcare products and solutions, the programme is designed to foster creative science, engage talented scientists as postdoctoral fellows and expand scientific relationship with academia. At any given time, Roche supports 100 postdocs as part of the programme, and participants are mentored both by a scientist at Roche and an academic institute. The complementary nature of this collaboration is not only valuable in developing scientific talent, but also helps to contribute to the global body of scientific evidence.

Indirect investment

Investing in future talent, however, is not limited to direct investment in human capital, and the impact of developing infrastructure or driving research projects should not be overlooked. Roche has a long tradition of collaboration with academic institutions in an attempt to develop the assets that are generated externally. The ultimate goal of these collaborations is the development of future medicines, but as a result there is significant collateral investment in human resources in terms of skillset.

Location of ARC organisation, Alexandria Center for Life Science, New York City

Looking ahead

With the recent establishment of the Roche ARC organisation, located in New York, these collaborations with scientists and academic institutions will be further fostered at the company, given that forming strong relationships for the purposes of enhancing and complementing internal R&D efforts is its key remit. “The goal is to look at the early stage of the drug development process – target identification, target validation and technological platforms – to identify innovative potential of these early assets,” said Juan Carlos when explaining activities led by ARC. The selection process comprises two parts – the first part is the identification of targets that line up with Roche internal strategic priorities. The aim here is to develop relationships between our internal therapeutic area experts and external researchers and – ultimately – start a collaborative project

Tags: Sustainability, Science