The “science of patient input” and “patient engagement” have been hot topics recently in discussions about the future of our biomedical innovation ecosystem. Patient organizations have long promoted the idea that patients should be partners with industry as they develop new therapies, that their perspectives and insights are valuable throughout the pathway from bench to bedside. We are also seeing new legislation, including the 21st Century Cures Act and the Prescription Drug and Medical Device User Fee Acts (PDUFA, MDUFA), capture these sentiments by encouraging an increased patient role in the regulatory process. The concept is also starting to catch on in industry with many device and drug companies creating new positions dedicated to patient engagement efforts. But there is still a lot of work ahead to develop practical methodologies for utilizing patient input and to show the return on investment.
At the Focused Ultrasound Foundation (FUSF), an important part of our mission includes identifying, educating, and mentoring future focused ultrasound clinicians and scientists. With this goal in mind, several years ago we launched our International Research Fellowship Program. Today this program includes internship and fellowship opportunities for the best minds in the field, both in the US and abroad.
The Foundation’s International Research Fellowship Program began in the summer of 2012 with our first visiting scholar, CNRS-funded research professor Jean-François (Jeff) Aubry, PhD, who took a year-long sabbatical from the Institut Langevin, Espci Paris to join FUSF. In his fellowship role, Jeff collaborated on research projects with both Foundation staff and researchers at the University of Virginia (UVA). His projects ranged from thermal dose predictive modeling to head phantom development for acoustic testing. Upon his return to Paris, Jeff was elected as president of the International Society for Therapeutic Ultrasound for a three-year term, and he continues to visit Charlottesville to advance ongoing collaborative research projects. It was clear to us after our very productive experience with Jeff that we had identified a crucial unmet need by offering this fellowship as a unique opportunity for inter-institutional collaboration in the field of focused ultrasound.
Innovation is the driving force for biomedical research as we strive for health care that is safer, more effective and of greater value. Continued innovation requires collaboration, particularly in this time of limited resources, global competition and long timelines from bench to bedside. The biomedical community is recognizing the need to break down the silos that impede progress, and foundations – including the Focused Ultrasound Foundation – are realizing a need for quick and widespread dissemination of research results that will forge new partnerships among multiple stakeholders including researchers, clinicians, industry, government and patients.
Like many of you, all of us at the Focused Ultrasound Foundation were surprised and saddened to learn of Senator John McCain’s recent glioblastoma (GBM) diagnosis. GBM and other brain tumors are a major focus of our research here at the Foundation, and unfortunately we are all too familiar with the devastating effects of this disease on patients and their families. Our thoughts and well wishes are with the McCains and we sincerely hope he will be one of the lucky ones to survive for many years to come.
When news of the Senator’s diagnosis became public, we were flooded with inquiries about whether focused ultrasound (FUS) could treat his tumor. Unfortunately the short answer, at the present time, is no. Focused ultrasound is still in the early stages of development for brain tumors. We hope and expect, however, that the technology will be available in the not too distant future as an effective, noninvasive alternative or complement to traditional GBM treatments to improve quality and longevity of life in these patients.
Focused ultrasound is a powerful technology poised to play a unique role towards achieving the vision of the Cancer Moonshot. This early stage, noninvasive, therapeutic technology has the potential to improve the quality and longevity of life and decrease the cost of care for certain patients with cancer by serving as an alternative or complement to each of the four pillars of cancer treatment: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. The Focused Ultrasound Foundation is dedicated to bringing this new therapy to patients as quickly as possible.
The Moonshot initiative has emphasized the need to break down silos that are impediments to progress in cancer research in order to promote collaboration and data sharing among multiple stakeholders including researchers, clinicians, industry, government and patients. The Foundation works hard to do just that with the growing community active in focused ultrasound research.