Research Article: Modeling timelines for translational science in cancer; the impact of technological maturation

Date Published: March 27, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Laura M. McNamee, Fred D. Ledley, Joshua L. Rosenbloom.


This work examines translational science in cancer based on theories of innovation that posit a relationship between the maturation of technologies and their capacity to generate successful products. We examined the growth of technologies associated with 138 anticancer drugs using an analytical model that identifies the point of initiation of exponential growth and the point at which growth slows as the technology becomes established. Approval of targeted and biological products corresponded with technological maturation, with first approval averaging 14 years after the established point and 44 years after initiation of associated technologies. The lag in cancer drug approvals after the increases in cancer funding and dramatic scientific advances of the 1970s thus reflects predictable timelines of technology maturation. Analytical models of technological maturation may be used for technological forecasting to guide more efficient translation of scientific discoveries into cures.

Partial Text

There has been extensive debate about the efficacy of investments made in cancer research since the 1970s and how to achieve better results in the future. There is little debate that these investments have produced unprecedented insights into cancer biology. This progress is evident in the near-exponential growth in academic publications, as well as salient discoveries in oncogenesis, apoptosis, cancer immunology, genomics[1], and the emergence of targeted therapeutics[2], biologicals, cell therapies, and nanoparticles[3]. These investments have not, however, had temporal impacts on increasing annual anti-cancer drug approvals or survival for most major cancers[4, 5].

The expansion of funding for cancer research since the 1970s correlates not only with near-exponential growth in the number of publications, but also to a series of salient scientific discoveries that promised to provide new targeted and biologic therapies for treating cancer[5]. Nevertheless, for several decades after these increases in funding, there was no proportional increase in approval of NMEs. In this report, we examine the lag in emergence of NMEs for cancer therapy since the 1970s, building on theories of innovation that posit a relationship between technological maturation and the ability of technologies to generate successful products, as well as observations in many technology sectors that successful products emerge only after research on the enabling technologies achieves a certain level of maturation[31–33]. The data presented are consistent with the stated hypothesis that the emergence of new anticancer drugs follows a characteristic pattern of innovation in which successful products emerge only after research on the enabling technologies achieves a certain level of maturation, and that the lag in the emergence of NMEs represents a predictable latency associated with the time required for nascent science and technology to reach this level of maturation. There are several aspects to this observation.




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