Retest Failure: Irreproducibility in Research Provides Opportunities to Biotech Startup Companies for Contracted Revalidation Services

Retest Failure: Irreproducibility in Research Provides Opportunities to Biotech Startup Companies for Contracted Revalidation Services

By Siwei Zhang
Retest Failure: Irreproducibility in Research Provides Opportunities to Biotech Startup Companies for Contracted Revalidation Services

Science is robust and, in the field of life sciences research, robustness means reproducibility. It is becoming more frequent that large pharmaceutical companies are using academic journals, especially renowned journals such as Nature, Science, and Cell, as part of their sources in determining the topics of pre-clinical research. Such trend is especially true in the frontier fields of research such as cancer biology, AIDS treatment, Alzheimer’s disease treatment, etc. However, such reliance on a previously highly-trustful source is becoming risky nowadays.

A recent feature article published in Science suggests that, at least in the field of cancer biology, repeat failure is becoming one of the key problems in threatening the integrity of research. Such irreproducibility is not only thwarting laboratory research but, what is worse, is also interfering with the R&D process of biopharmaceutical companies. For example, out of 53 high-profile cancer papers that the biopharmaceutical company, Amgen, tried to reproduce, only 6 of them gave out the expected results. Bayer also tried the same approach, and they surprisingly found that they could only fully reproduce 14 out of the 67 frequently-cited papers that they tested. In the worst case, Amgen was forced to drop an entire R&D project aiming to find drugs targeting STK33, a potential cancer protein, according to a published article in Cell, after they had failed to confirm the key results presented in the paper.

Seeing such failed reproducibility as a threat to the integrity of cancer research, Timothy Errington and his colleagues at the non-profit Centre for Open Science in Charlottesville, VA, initiated the Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology. The aim of this project is to attempt to validate the results of some of the most-cited papers through a network of contracted research facilities such as outsourcing research companies and core facilities within institutes and universities. Whilst concerns on the reproducibility of pre-clinical research results are not new, such concerns can be translated into commercial opportunities for biotech startups by providing another type of risk control service for large biopharmaceutical companies and their R&D agendas.

To provide a conceptual design for such risk control service, two alternative strategies can be developed. On one hand, a startup biotech company facilitated with a small-to-medium sized lab can provide revalidation services in one or more highly specialized fields of research, such as validating candidate genes/results involved in prostate/breast cancer in the form of contracted outsourcing. In such an approach, one startup company does not require a complete line of research instruments and professionals related to cancer biology, rather, a more specialized approach (such as focusing on the validation of one specific type of cancer) that will allow a more focused research, faster turnover rate, and lower initial investment. Alternatively, the second strategy is that startups serve as intermediates between large biopharmaceutical companies and a network of contracted research facilities. In this approach, startups will again serve as an outsourcing service by finding the most candid contracted research facilities for their clients to validate their potential research targets.

Seeing that almost no business entity is operating within this market gap, it would be highly attractive for biotech startups and venture capitals to fill in this space, to reduce R&D risks for both general research and the biopharmaceutical industry.

The Cancer Test: A nonprofit’s effort to replicate 50 top cancer papers is shaking up labs. Jocelyn Kaiser Science 26 JUNE 2015 • VOL 348 ISSUE 6242 1411

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