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Avoiding duplicate research
June 6, 2010 4:35 PM   Subscribe

How much money is wasted on duplicate AIDS and cancer research and how do scientists avoid such duplication?

I assume a significant amount of money is wasted on duplicate research because funding is so decentralized. Is there an estimate of how much money has been wasted on duplicate research? Is there a database listing lab research and clinical studies currently being conducted, i.e., findings not yet published, for scientists to consult before beginning new studies?
posted by HotPatatta to Science & Nature (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
What do you mean duplicate? Replicating research is a critical part of science, for one. It's not considered "real" unless another lab can do it again.

Also, what makes you think funding is so decentralized? In many fields (and I suspect this is true for AIDS and cancer), the majority of the funding comes from NIH. You might be able to get grants from say, NIAAA and NIDA for the same type of study of addiction, but that's a weird area where there are dumbly two different agencies for the same problem.
posted by Maias at 4:41 PM on June 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


One could argue that the research isn't being duplicated, but is 'competative'.
posted by hylaride at 4:43 PM on June 6, 2010


What maias said. In the US at least, funding is highly centralized.
There are often large, multi-center trials, where researchers at multiple locations are working on the same study, but that's intentional and necessary, to recruit enough eligible participants.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:46 PM on June 6, 2010


The other posters are correct. In addition, the rush to publish new findings or new methodologies first is pretty intense. So while there may be multiple labs working on the same problem, they usually stop working on the "solved" problem and move on to new ones pretty fast. It's a good way to keep science moving quickly even though it's expensive.
posted by parkerjackson at 4:47 PM on June 6, 2010


Wanted to add-- scientists find out about these things even before they get published through off-the-record networking and conferences. I'm not sure a big database is needed. People getting a lot of funding and working on similar project should know each other and keep in touch if only to brag about major break-throughs.
posted by parkerjackson at 4:49 PM on June 6, 2010


Researchers pay very close attention to what other researchers in their subsubfield are doing. (In some fields, researchers are very open about what they're up to; in others, they keep things under wraps until they can publish; I don't know what AIDS research is like.) In addition to not wanting to duplicate work, they want to know what other people have discovered recently, and when they do discover something, they want as many people to know about it (and cite it) as possible. The world of science is already full of mechanisms for keeping people informed of what everyone else is doing.
posted by hattifattener at 5:00 PM on June 6, 2010


I don’t really agree with the word “wasted” but to help you out a bit….

Clinical trials are not just randomly conducted on a whim – in fact, if you don’t register your clinical trial on sites such as clinicaltrials.gov (this would be the place for you to go look up different disease states and therapies under evaluation), most journals will not publish your data/study.

So go to clinicaltrials.gov and type in a disease state (lets just say RCC for renal cell cancer since this is one of your “wasted” expenses). Lots of trials appear – narrow it further by selecting on therapy (random again, let’s try sorafenib). Those are not duplicate trials but rather under different conditions (eg, adjuvant=before surgery, with radiotherapy, in combination with another targeted therapy, in sequential order with another therapy). Even though these medications have led to improvements, someone with many of the advanced cancer diseases has months to a few years maximum – so there is a lot of room for improvement, hence trying every possible combination of treatment to improve survival, the amount of time without disease progression, and quality of life.

For therapies that are eventually approved for cancer, this typically has to be demonstrated in a few large phase III trials – they are often identical in terms of enrollment criteria, but these things are required if they are to get approval from regulatory agencies. There have been therapies that meet an endpoint in the first trial but failed the second and don’t get approval.

In addition, if you want to evaluate screening or a new diagnostic technique, it needs to be validated in another lab using the same criteria and conditions … so the goal is to replicate the study and show that it works well, so it isn’t really wasted.

This New York Times editorial does outline some problems with clinical trials – failure to pay organizations/investigators adequate funding (and failure to complete trials or adequately power a study) – those would be real problems and if the trials are not done well or enroll patients but the study is not completed ...that is a waste
posted by Wolfster at 5:10 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


To a certain extent, "duplication" is necessary and important: If I'm working on small molecule X, and another lab publishes a paper with the result I was working towards, I'll probably move on to another set of experiments involving that molecule. Chances are, some of those experiments will depend on the findings of the other lab, and so I'll end up replicating some of their work (making sure, for example, that the molecule actually binds a given protein) in the process of moving on with my own work. This is important! I'll either be able to check that the results are sound while moving ahead with new experiments (good to know!), or I'll get results that cast doubt on the other lab's results, which I might end up publishing myself.

Plus, even broad things like "cancer research" can be divided into subfields and subsubfields, and often there are only half a dozen or so other labs really focused on things near the core of your research. It's pretty easy to keep track of the broad research directions of a few other labs.
posted by ubersturm at 5:13 PM on June 6, 2010


Using your logic, any research that doesn't provide a cure would be wasted.
posted by Brian Puccio at 5:21 PM on June 6, 2010


There's a database called NIH RePORTER that lists all medical studies receiving funding from the NIH.
posted by lunchbox at 5:31 PM on June 6, 2010


Using your logic, any research that doesn't provide a cure would be wasted.

no.

My completely pedestrian logic goes something like this: Let's say I work in cancer research in, say, Norway, and I'm curious about how chemical x affects the growth of malignant cells. I would want to know if a 5-year study of the effects of chemical x on the growth of malignant cells is already 3 years in progress in patients in South Africa or Australia or wherever before beginning my own 5-year study. Maybe I'd want to focus my time and the funds given to me from the government agency, foundation, or walkathon toward some other aspect of cancer research.

Thanks for your answers, everyone.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:41 PM on June 6, 2010


My completely pedestrian logic goes something like this: Let's say I work in cancer research in, say, Norway, and I'm curious about how chemical x affects the growth of malignant cells. I would want to know if a 5-year study of the effects of chemical x on the growth of malignant cells is already 3 years in progress in patients in South Africa or Australia or wherever before beginning my own 5-year study. Maybe I'd want to focus my time and the funds given to me from the government agency, foundation, or walkathon toward some other aspect of cancer research.

Then you'd do a literature search and find out who else is working in this area and what's been accomplished thus far. You might cite some of their findings as evidence of the strength of your grant proposal, or you might contact them and inquire about a collaboration, if there seems like a good opportunity for you to scratch each others' backs.

Grant funding is awarded for very specific projects. You can't apply for funds without basically having done part of the work already to demonstrate that you've got a viable project with supporting data already.
posted by desuetude at 5:53 PM on June 6, 2010


Just coming from other academic fields, most areas of specialized interest are fairly small communities of people who know each other, end up reviewing papers and proposals, and meet on a yearly basis.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:16 PM on June 6, 2010


I would want to know if a 5-year study of the effects of chemical x on the growth of malignant cells is already 3 years in progress in patients in South Africa or Australia or wherever before beginning my own 5-year study.

I just want to point out that it takes up to twenty years (sometimes more!) of work before you even go near a person. You don't just jump in, no one would fund that or give ethics approval. During all those years work gets published, results get presented at conferences, chemicals get patented, researchers gossip, students graduate and move to new research groups (huge source of information transfer), funding decisions get made public. Science is a community effort, we really do know what the other groups around the place in our niche are doing. Even those of us stuck in small far away places.

We may not know the details, particularly of things being made ready for patent, but the priority issues in publishing and IP issues in patenting mean we have strong vested interest in not doing exactly what you're worried about, replicating someone else's work exactly. In NZ a PhD thesis has to be a unique contribution and students do a lot of the research, so that's another reason to make sure we're not replicating other groups. I'm not saying it never happens and I have at least one friend who's PhD was scooped (i.e. someone else published the same work so he had to start again). But it is rare.

There are databases tracking funding and clinical trials as outlined above. Universities and research groups also often have websites listing their research areas to attract students and new researchers. Plus a quick pubmed will tell you who's doing what in the fields you're interested in. But a big centralised database with everything in it won't happen because of IP issues and I don't see how it's necessary anyway.
posted by shelleycat at 6:41 PM on June 6, 2010


I’m going to apologize because this is probably more than you want to know HotPatatta, but based on your last comment…

I would want to know if a 5-year study of the effects of chemical x on the growth of malignant cells is already 3 years in progress in patients in South Africa or Australia or wherever before beginning my own 5-year study. Maybe I'd want to focus my time and the funds given to me from the government agency, foundation, or walkathon toward some other aspect of cancer research.

Nthing everything that desuetude said. When you apply for your grant, it includes 1) a literature review (you already looked for previously published studies and write at least a few paragraphs summarizing your hypothesis and why there is a need for your study), 2) show preliminary research (you already showed that chemical X does …something in rats or something in patient population Y, etc.), 3) you propose specific experiments and projects, and 4) if you get the grant, you aresupposed to be spending it on the project for which you received funding - not a new wing of a building, not a new study, but the studies/experiments you proposed in the grant.

In addition, if your scenario actually happened ....chemical X …and let’s say that you live in Asia and the other study was done in S African and the other one in Austria – that’s phenomenal and then you should proceed with your study.

Here are a real life few examples as to why:
• There actually have been drugs that work in one population but not another. Check out the drug gefitinib (and you can google away if you find this interesting). If I remember correctly, at one point it was approved in the US…but THEN…later studies showed it only worked in a subpopulation so the regulatory agencies in the US changed it to “only patients enrolled in clinical trials who benefit” can receive the drug. Later it was found that the drug worked really well in a particular population (eg. females, never smokers, and Asians …usually all 3). Studies beyond these found that it was a particular mutation (Epidermal growth factor receptor). This is an abstract of a review article that discusses some of this information but there is a lot more info on this…poke around pub med a bit.But lots of studies conducted all over the world contributed to these findings. People who are diagnosed with advanced non-small cell lung cancer usually undergo testing for a few mutations and receive a therapy based on the type of mutation and other factors - but the original findings (difference between the populations) was crtical to this finding
• Approval for a drug – there are different regulatory agencies per country/countries, plus different underlying causes of the disease etc. So although a therapy may have efficacy and safety in a phase III trial for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) from Europe/North and South America, it doesn’t mean that it will be given approval in an Asian country. Therefore, a similar study is conducted in countries from the Asia-Pacific region of the world. (Go to pubmed again and do a search for phase III and HCC – you will bring up a few studies conducted in different regions of the world -similar studies but different populations) In addition, there are differences between the underlying etiological causes of HCC and the respective regions of the world (eg, higher prevalence of Hepatitis B virus and Hepatitis C virus, etc.), so you really do want to see - will the drug still work? Is it safe in these populations? Are the side effects similar or different, etc.
posted by Wolfster at 6:42 PM on June 6, 2010


There actually have been drugs that work in one population but not another.

This is called pharmacogenomics by the way, if you're interested in a specific term to google. Definitely good reason why studies get 'duplicated', along with the different regulatory bodies in different places needing different things.

Also the phase I study of the drug I did preclinical work for was done in several countries because of the funding. We had local NZ funding so needed to do some of the studies here, both to give the opportunity to help patients in this country and to give work and experience to the clinical doctors here. Some was done in Australia for similar reasons. But there aren't enough patients here plus we were going for FDA approval so some of the trial was done in the US as well. It could look like three replicating trials from the outside (the different arms even started at different times I think) even though it wasn't. I don't know how it all went because I left that job and moved on and it hasn't been published yet but the idea was sound.
posted by shelleycat at 6:54 PM on June 6, 2010


Regarding the idea of "duplicate" research, there are a lot of versions of what that could mean.

1) Reproducible results. As Maias pointed out, this is actually a fundamental part of research. It's important that different labs be able to achieve the same results to prove that the principle of the research is sound -- that what looks like it's happening is actually happening.

2) Separate teams coming up with the same idea. This is generally a net win for research, though it can create issues later in terms of giving credit for major discoveries. The process leading up to the "discovery" is made up of other bits of research, and multiple teams coming up with same idea might approach it from different angles. This can provide context for why it works the way it works, and provide multiple jumping-off points for other areas of inquiry.

3) Research in progress, findings not yet published. Well, the research that led to the research was published, so the approach is not a secret, it's part of the literature.

4) Refinement. Cancer therapy is often incredibly toxic and in some cases actually carcinogenic. Going back over current therapies and re-examining to try to reduce toxicity of treatment is sort of doing the same work over again, but for the good of the patient.

5) Access to meetings. This is where there is a problem, in my opinion. Scientists working in poorer countries don't have the opportunity to attend huge international meetings to get up to speed on the current state of the field and do the networking needed to form collaborations. There is the HINARI program to ensure that researchers in poorer countries can get discounted or free subscriptions to scholarly journals, at least. But yes, lack of access to the community at large and technology can keep researchers in developing countries working "behind the times."
posted by desuetude at 9:54 PM on June 6, 2010


Just a few things to add to the already excellent responses above.
To add to Wolfster's grant process, one final dimension is the bio and cv of the investigators. This might seem trivial, but it is not. You have to show that you have already done this kind of research, are qualified to do it, and have all the appropriate resources necessary. In addition to the actual project needing to be meritorious, you need to be qualified to do it, which usually means a background of publication in that particular area. So there are several levels of filters before you get any money. First, you need to have passed peer review in order to publish your findings in that area (sometimes done in support of someone else's grant, but not necessarily). Then you need to pass a very rigorous peer review to get grant money for a specific project.
Regarding that, the rates of acceptance are extremely low. Keep in mind that it takes a fair amount of resources to even get together an application. And of those applications, only less than 1 in 6 get funded. That link is outdated, I know that it has gotten more competitive lately.

Not to say that there is never any useless science, or waste in scientific research, but there is a lot of competition, and many levels of filters to make sure that it doesn't happen, unlike, from what I can see, the kind of filters you might like to see in, say, in oil exploration.
posted by cogpsychprof at 12:36 PM on June 7, 2010


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