Collaboration in the biomedical research arena has been gaining traction over the last few years. A rising number of organizations have become involved in multi-stakeholder consortia as a way of sharing knowledge and resources to address the challenges of translating promising research, gaining greater efficiencies within a system, and accelerating patient outcomes.
The Movember Foundation—which has raised $685 million Australian dollars (about $650 million US dollars) for prostate cancer, testicular cancer, poor mental health, and broader men’s health initiatives since 2003—has made global collaboration a strategic priority. While we’ve internally organized efforts like our moustache-growing campaign to raise funds and awareness for men’s health issues, we firmly believe that to make an everlasting impact, we need a collective impact approach—where all relevant stakeholders establish a collective, cross-sectoral agenda, and work toward a common goal.
The Movember Foundation is a catalytic funder that acts as a true “backbone organization” by taking responsibility for driving a common agenda and delivering global programs to optimize men’s health outcomes. One such program is the Global Action Plan (GAP), which takes a disruptive approach to transforming the prostate cancer and testicular cancer research world. The premise of GAP is that team-based, integrated research—performed across borders, with a strong collaborative mindset—will reduce duplication of effort, deliver innovation faster, and accelerate patient outcomes.
GAP brings together more than 250 of the world’s preeminent urologists, oncologists, pathologists, and researchers from across Australia, the United States, the UK, and Europe. The program is designed to foster synergies within the global prostate and testicular cancer research effort; it ensures that researchers exchange and translate knowledge by nurturing alliances between clinicians, academics, and industry. Underpinning the program is a portfolio of seven collaborative projects, currently consisting of 12 global cross-functional R&D consortia and 20-plus integrated work streams. Movember drives these projects out of Melbourne, Australia, but implements them across 16 countries.
GAP focuses on addressing challenges around patient risk stratification and treatment optimization. The project portfolio includes:
- Translational prostate and testicular cancer research projects to validate promising new blood, urine, or tissue-based tests (biomarkers), thereby better distinguishing aggressive from low-risk disease and treatment resistance/response mechanisms
- Cutting-edge imaging projects to understand disease progression at a more granular level
- Integration of the majority of the world’s Active Surveillance patient data to develop optimal guidelines and clinical decision-making tools for personalizing treatment and reducing side-effects
- The largest international exercise and metabolic health clinical trial to determine whether intensive physical activity in men with advanced prostate cancer can have a survival benefit
- Investment in the most important global testicular cancer chemotherapy clinical trial to optimize treatment regimens
An important part of the GAP initiative is governance from panels of clinical and scientific experts in the field, who play a critical role in refining project scope and providing ongoing stewardship throughout the life of each project.
In 2013, the GAP program invested seed funding in the prostate cancer imaging arena to foster the development of several promising imaging tracers. We hoped to align the prostate cancer imaging community, accelerate research that determines the spread of tumors outside the prostate gland earlier, and better predict which patients are likely to have their disease return after initial therapy. Many clinical experts considered one tracer, FACBC (or fluciclovine), to be a highly promising imaging compound, but it had stalled in development and was not accessible to patients. Movember assembled and worked closely with leaders in the field to design a novel clinical trial protocol that would test the validity of the FACBC tracer in detecting prostate tumor recurrence. After 12 months of collaboration between the consortium members, an industry player approached us and we evolved our commercialization strategy. Movember subsequently handed development of FACBC over to Blue Earth Diagnostics, which has since filed for regulatory approval to use FACBC in the United States and Europe—an expedited outcome that would likely not have occurred if we hadn’t taken on a catalytic role.
We are also using a global, collaborative approach for other initiatives, including TrueNTH—a program of holistic care and support interventions that help men living with prostate cancer access better treatment information, lifestyle advice, shared patient experiences, and healthcare professionals—and numerous collaborative mental health programs that bring together a variety of stakeholders to tackle suicide prevention.
Of course we’re not alone; other health organizations are also tackling complex problems with a collaborative approach. Dublin-based HealthXL, for example, is a matchmaking community that fosters communication and collaboration between major healthcare organizations, startups, and digital health experts to solve large-scale and system-wide healthcare challenges (such as sleep disorders, chronic heart failure, and medication adherence) via innovative digital health solutions. Another organization, TransCelerate BioPharma, is fostering collaboration across the global biopharmaceutical community to identify, prioritize, design, and facilitate the implementation of solutions that drive efficient, effective, and high-quality delivery of new medicines. And FasterCures—a patient-centric, Washington DC-based “action tank” that works to speed and improve the medical research system—recently launched its Consortiapedia project, which provides a framework for understanding the breadth of approaches that a range of consortia have adopted to bring together non-traditional partners with a shared goal. The organization has analyzed more than 400 consortia to date, and it will be fascinating to follow their progress and track the impact they have on long-term patient outcomes across a range of diseases.
Driving global collaboration in an industry where the “publish or perish” mentality is strongly engrained, and where researchers and others are still incentivized to hoard knowledge and compete for funding, is difficult. The challenge requires that we remain dedicated and use disruptive thinking to produce a paradigm shift within health sector R&D. If we take on global collaboration with tenacity, in partnership with the right champions—those who share the same collaborative mindset and buy into the shared vision of improved outcomes—global collaboration can be transformative.