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Society Spotlight: Drug/Device Discovery and Development (DDDD) Committee

As immediate-past president Marc Moss said at the 2018 Respiratory Innovation Summit (RIS) this year, “Most researchers are not taught about entrepreneurial thinking and are unaware how to transition their important discoveries from the laboratory into the world. This lack of knowledge can delay improvements in patient care.” He went on to say that, in terms of the goals of the ATS, “As one of the preeminent pulmonary, critical care, and sleep societies in the world, the ATS is enhancing entrepreneurial knowledge translation and ultimately patient care by connecting academia, industry and venture capital.”

The American Thoracic Society’s mission is to help the world breathe, and each society member approaches that mission from their own area of expertise, from researcher to clinician to industry scientist. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the slogan of the ATS 2018 lnternational Conference, with the enviable participation of more than 16,000 attendees, “Where Today’s Science Meets Tomorrow’s Care.”  

While it’s clear how members do their part to advance pulmonary, sleep, and critical care medicine, it’s imperative to remember the role of the Society itself in the mission. The Society is the academic home for experts from all aspects of science and care, from research to clinical practice, and provides a forum to not only discuss new findings but also develop innovative programming that focuses on closing the gap between the translation of new knowledge and discoveries into innovative clinical care, and its implementation into practice.  Through the diversity of its membership, 10% of which includes industry members, the Society is in the unique position to create and foster a collaborative environment composed of respiratory scientists from industry, academia, and government sectors in the joined goal of improving patient care.  The work of the Drug/Device Discovery and Development (DDDD) Committee demonstrates the Society’s commitment to build a scientific community of excellence that is inclusive of all its members and supportive of innovation.

DDDD activates the connection between discovery and practice by linking worlds that can seem quite separate. Through a multifaceted approach which includes presenting educational programming during the ATS International Conference, developing opportunities for early career researchers and investigators, publishing editorials in the ATS Journals that highlight the value of collaboration in  advancements in therapeutics, devices and other public health/policy issues relevant to the ATS community, and implementing inclusive programs which encourage scientific debate and dialogue, the committee strives to support and accelerate the development of innovative therapies for those with respiratory diseases, critical illness and sleep disorders. Over the past few conferences, the DDDD presented symposia on topics including disease modification in COPD, wearable health technology, the importance of biomarkers in basic, translational and clinical studies, and the role of entrepreneurship in creating an innovative environment. The immediate past Chair of DDDD, Theodore F. Reiss, MD, MBE was also invited to present an ATS Keynote Lecture in San Diego, entitled “On Pharma: the Complexity of Innovation.” By developing programming designed to engage the ATS community in the art and principles of translational research and help researchers at all levels of their careers to present their findings and connect directly with people who can assist in moving their work to the next level, DDDD forms a bridge to the formation of relationships that translate today’s science into actionable care.  

For example, this year DDDD collaborated on developing the first RIS, an event separate from the international conference but held during the same time period, where global leaders from pharmaceutical and medical device companies gathered in the same room as venture capitalists, respiratory start-up CEO’s, and researchers from a wide range of backgrounds to discuss innovative new opportunities and the possibilities of venture-capital investment. The RIS provided a platform for start-up pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies to present their research and new technologies that are still in the developmental stages and make connections with researchers and potential investors that can facilitate turning new discoveries into new therapies.

The DDDD also places a priority on mentoring and providing resources to the next generation of scientists, by hosting events such as the ATS BEAR (Building Education to Advance Research) Cage Competition, which will be entering its fifth year in Dallas. Designed around principles of entrepreneurship and innovation, the BEAR Cage gives new clinical and translational researchers the opportunity to pitch their research ideas in fun, yet competitive forum, promoting opportunities for collaboration, mentorship, and growth. Beginning in late 2017, early career investigators submitted proposals through a competitive selection process in hopes of being chosen for the live competition. The three finalists presented their research to a panel of translational science experts from academia, industry, and government, for a chance to win a $5,000 prize. All the panelists received some funding, but more importantly, mentorship, in guiding their projects forward. With the guidance of their DDDD distance mentors, recent BEAR Cage winners have gone on to publish editorials in the ATS Journals and have been invited to give presentations on their research at the NIH.

As a diverse group composed of members from academia, industry, and the NHLBI, The DDDD is particularly important in the creation and maintenance of these relationships by fostering inclusiveness and collaboration amongst all scientists. In order to create an environment where academic researchers, clinicians, and members of industry can share ideas and resources, but still maintain public confidence, the DDDD adheres to extensive conflict of interest criteria. Developed by the DDDD and approved by the ATS Board of Directors in 2014, the ATS Principles to Foster Greater Inclusiveness and Collaboration provide a groundwork for the ATS to serve as a leader in fostering innovation and encouraging science that focuses on translation of new knowledge and discoveries into innovative clinical care, and its implementation into practice. The policy is based on principles of transparency so scientists from diverse backgrounds can collaborate without fear of outside perceptions regarding influence, financial or otherwise, on the quality and direction of scientific research coming from the ATS.

As scientists, ATS members understand the strength that comes from diversity of opinion and perspective, and know the value of resources and expertise. This is as powerful in innovation as it is in the lab, and thanks to DDDD’s work and the members within in, the ATS can move ever more quickly toward tomorrow’s care.


Information about BEAR Cage 2019 and RIS 2019 will become available this fall.