UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann Featured on BioCentury This Week

By Jeffrey Norris on December 13, 2011
UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann is interviewed for "BioCentury This Week"

UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann is interviewed for "BioCentury This Week," a public affairs program that is broadcast on a CBS affiliate serving the Washington, DC market on Sunday mornings and webcast around the world.

UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, former president for product development at Genentech, is featured in a video interview for BioCentury Publications Inc., a major biopharmaceutical news media source, which first aired online on Dec. 11.

At Genentech, Desmond-Hellmann oversaw the development of a generation of targeted therapies, including the cancer treatments avastin, herceptin and tarceva and the rituxin. During the interview, she discussed challenges in translating research discoveries into health-improving treatments.

Now the head of a health sciences university with a $3.6 billion budget, Desmond-Hellmann said that advances in modern medicine depend on scientific advances in understanding fundamental human biology. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) play a major role in supporting this research, which remains an area of competitive strength for the United States, according to Desmond-Hellmann.

“I am deeply concerned about NIH funding for basic biomedical research,” she said. “That basic science may feel far afield from the bedside or the patient, but all patients in the United States - everybody who cares about health should be very worried about basic funding at NIH, because that's the start of our deep understanding.”

There can be no new “great medicine” without a new “great understanding,” she added.

In addition to basic biomedical research, another key national investment should be in education, Desmond-Hellmann said. When she worked for Genentech the company had an ongoing need to train employees to work in regulatory affairs. Taking a drug through product approval and post-approval studies requires special expertise in statistical analysis and in the design and analysis of clinical trials with secondary as well as clinical endpoints.

Universities can help meet the demand for this expertise, Desmond Hellmann said.

She discussed plans to develop a curriculum and to recruit faculty experts in regulatory science at UCSF.

Universities may be able to play a bigger role in reducing the uncertainty involved in drug development through collaborations with industry, Desmond-Hellmann said.

In addition to moving drugs toward clinical trials more efficiently and quickly, it is important to learn as much as possible from each clinical trial, she said.

Secrecy can be a barrier to efficient translation of science for patient benefit, Desmond-Hellmann said. “Intellectual property and trade secrets can be impediments when you want the best minds working together.”

In the future, with appropriate privacy safeguards, physicians may be able to contribute more to advances in medicine by entering clinical and laboratory information into shared databases that could be analyzed to gain new insight, Desmond-Hellmann said.

She co-chaired a National Academy of Sciences committee to define this kind of “new taxonomy” of disease in a recent study requested by NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD.

“Let’s bring science right into the normal course of clinical care,” she said. “Let’s make sure that we can put together a series of databases that will be linked together into a knowledge network, so that all this incredible information can populate an information commons, and so that scientists all over the world could have access to that information.”