HBS Launches Clinical Trials Contest

Harvard Business School launched last week the Precision Trials Challenge, a contest that challenges participants to find a better way of conducting clinical trials during the drug approval process.

A $20 million gift from the Robert and Myra Kraft Family Foundation last November helps fund the contest, which will run through March. The gift, which came during the ongoing University wide capital campaign, was intended to support business oriented research around precision medicine.

The contest aims to gather ideas that make clinical trials cheaper and more efficient. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration's drug approval process can take over ten years and cost from $1.5 billion to $5 billion, Sterling said. About half the cost of drug development comes from the trials, according to Sterling.

“I think the common wisdom is that we can [make clinical trials] more streamlined; we can do it quicker, better, cheaper,” Sterling said.

Precision medicine refers to developing treatments specific to a person’s individual genotype, according to Cara M. Sterling, director of the Health Care Initiative at the Business School.


“Robert Kraft, having some specific family history related to cancer, and his wife dying of cancer, said that we need to do more research around precision medicine,” Sterling said. “He gave his money to the Business School, interestingly, because he feels like a lot of the problems we have today are what we would call ‘business model problems.’”

Robert S. Huckman, the faculty co-chair of the Health Care Initiative, said he thinks the science of precision medicine has progressed faster than the business models for bringing that science to the market.

Huckman said that because precision medicine is a new field, innovators in the area have lacked a platform to bring their ideas forward. The contest welcomes people from around the world to submit their ideas through an online application, allowing for necessary interaction between researchers,according to Sterling.

“At the end of the day, organizations are going to have to work together to try to bring these therapies to patients faster—and that’s where I would have to imagine the Kraft family felt that a business school could be helpful to some already very inspiring science,” he said.

Matt Strickland, co-president of the HBS Health Care Club, praised the challenge and said that while the gift that funded it was “extremely generous,” advancing precision medicine is a formidable challenge.

“[The Precision Trials Challenge] is an interesting way to try to come up with something useful with a relatively small amount of money,” he said.

–Staff writer Julia E. DeBenedictis can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Julia_DeBene.


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