April 26, 2017: Sharing Translational Knowledge Is Smarter Science

While NCATS develops and disseminates many kinds of tools and technologies, the most powerful and most easily disseminated resource ever created is knowledge. Translational science, being a young field, does not have the accumulated scholarship and shared knowledge that characterize other fields of science. And since much translation was historically performed in biopharmaceutical companies where competitive product development, not publishing, was the primary aim, a culture of open publishing of translational successes and failures never developed. As academic organizations have engaged in more translation, they have frequently also adopted the practice of not sharing information due to competitive considerations.

As a result, the facts and causes of failure, so common in translation, are rarely shared, nor are the reasons for success. Any field of science that does not share its successes or failures will fail to progress. Therefore, predictably, translational science has only haltingly improved in understanding or effectiveness over the last several decades.

For these reasons, NCATS places great emphasis on knowledge dissemination and education and on creating a community of scholars — one that welcomes new investigators — who learn from each other and advance the field.

One of the principal tools in NCATS’ educational toolbox is the Assay Guidance Manual (AGM), a free online “how-to” guide to all the preclinical stages of translation. This remarkable resource provides both overview information and step-by-step protocols that, like valued recipes, include all the details needed to be truly enabling. The AGM now has 41 chapters, contributed by more than 100 scientists worldwide, and an international editorial board of experts from industry, academia and government. NCATS staff provide the AGM’s editorial and management oversight, including strategic direction for the frequent content updates and new chapters.

NCATS collaborates with the knowledge dissemination experts at NIH’s National Library of Medicine to host and manage the online content. In 2016, the AGM was accessed 375,000 times — more than 1,000 “hits” a day. These amazing analytics tell us there is a tremendous need and desire for good translational knowhow. NCATS staff also lead regular in-person AGM training workshops nationwide and are continuing to find new ways to share the information.

The AGM is a unique and groundbreaking resource for translational science. But equally important is the cultural shift its creation and flourishing represents: The AGM is the brainchild of visionary scientists at Eli Lilly and Company and what is now the NCATS Chemical Genomics Center who believed that sharing ways to produce robust, reproducible science would lead to the development of more interventions to improve human health. The vision of those founding Lilly and NIH scientists, so countercultural at the time, is now a major movement fueling translational science and, most importantly, getting more treatments to more patients more quickly.

Christopher P. Austin, M.D. 
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences