2015 SRF Summer Scholar Profile: Zeeshan Arshad

Zeeshan Arshad

SRF Summer Scholar, Class of 2015

University of Oxford

My name is Zeeshaan Arshad, and I am currently a first year undergraduate student studying medicine at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, UK. In the past year, I have been studying the fundamental concepts that lie at the heart of medicine, such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and pathology. And, it has really opened my eyes to the possibilities and complexities of science. As a medical student, I find the number of diseases to which we have no answer in terms of cause, mechanism and cure mind-boggling. This is the main reason I chose to apply to become a SENS Research Foundation Summer Scholar this year, as I want to become involved in trying to answer the plethora of unanswered questions in the field of biomedicine.

SRF is a research foundation which focuses on developing treatments for conditions that are a result of the aging process, such as Alzheimer’s disease and cancer – conditions which lie at the heart of our society and affect so many of us and which still have no answer in terms of cure. Currently, we live in a country where there is a rapidly growing aging population. To put that in quantitative terms: in 2010 there were 10 million people over the age of 65 in the UK, but this number is projected to double by the year 2050 [1]. This is a proud achievement as advances in medical technology and delivery of healthcare itself has made longer life possible. However, from a future doctor’s point of view, this means we need to address age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, now to prevent putting more pressure on healthcare systems with ever shrinking budgets and, most importantly, to allow elderly people to live not only a longer life but a healthful one. The only way to do this is to develop a better understanding of age-related disorders, to develop treatments to cure/ control them, and, most importantly, to translate laboratory results to patient treatments. My Summer Scholars Project will address that final point to improve not only the health of patients but also the health of the entire population.

The Effect of Open Innovation on the Translation Process in Alzheimer’s Therapeutics

Under the mentorship of Professor Chas Bountra and Dr. David Brindley, my project will propose a model of open innovation in the translation process to address the problem of developing Alzheimer’s disease drugs. To do this, I will use a model to compare open innovation to more conventional drug development strategies by measuring certain metrics to determine the effect open innovation has on each stage of the translation process. These metrics can give us an insight into the rate and effectiveness of the process at each stage and, therefore, an idea about how open innovation can improve the translation process.

Before I go into a detailed project description, I think it is very important to understand: why is this issue so important? We are all familiar with Alzheimer’s disease. It is a disease caused by the progressive degeneration of nerve cells in our brains leading to a progressive decrease in neurocognitive function, memory loss, loss of speech, loss of voluntary body control, and often loss of life. In high- income countries in 2012, Alzheimer’s disease caused 42 out of every 100,000 deaths, making it the fourth leading cause of death in those countries [2]. Not only is it a disease that causes significant morbidity and mortality, it is also one of the most costly. Together, these points emphasize the need to cure this disease or face increasingly unsustainable burdens on the healthcare system. So, why haven’t we cured it already? There are numerous reasons why this is a difficult problem to solve. The main problem being the lack of understanding of the disease itself, including potential drug targets. This leads to drug discovery being very risky and inefficient. For example, in the last few decades, extensive research has explored targeting amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles as potential drug targets to treat Alzheimer’s disease with little success. Furthermore, in the conventional drug development process, organizations work in isolation, creating an environment in which similar compounds are sometimes studied in parallel. So, how can we fix this problem? The answer lies in making the translation process between research and healthcare implementation [3] more effective.

Figure 1. The translation process in drug development.

This figure highlights the different stages of the translation process from target discovery to the clinical application of the drug. Also highlighted are the two main areas, or ‘gaps,’ drug developers have difficulty overcoming when developing potential treatments.

The idea of open innovation is one that encourages the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation and expand markets for external use of information [4]. My project aims to build a model to compare open and conventional methods in drug development to determine its effect on the translation process. To do this, I will measure certain metrics or parameters at each of the stages shown in Fig. 1 to look at how open innovation affects that stage. For example, to assess the effect on the research and development stage, I will determine the number of publications/ citations produced by a drug developed via open versus conventional approaches. Additionally, I will examine the effect of open innovation on intellectual property rights by studying the number of patents filed in the discovery stage of the process, then look at attrition rates through clinical trials, and finally judge how open innovation affects the number of drugs reaching patients in the clinical environment: the final stage of the translation process.

Future Plans:

After the SRF Summer Scholars Program ends, I plan on returning to Scotland to continue my journey through my medical career as a second year medical student. I will take all of the skills that I have learnt throughout this summer and use them during my career, which will hopefully entail being a surgeon/ medial researcher in the future.


[1] – Parliamentuk. 1. UK Parliament. [Online]. Available from: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/key-issues-for-the-new-parliament/value-for-money-in-public-services/the-ageing-population/ [Accessed 6 June 2015].

[2] – Who.int. WHO | The top 10 causes of death [Internet]. 2015 [cited 19 June 2015]. Available from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/index1.html

[3] – Cooksey D. A review of UK health research funding. London: The stationary office; 2006.

[4] – Chesbrough H. Open innovation: a new paradigm for understanding industrial innovation. In: Chesbrough, H.I, Vanhaverbeke, W.V, West, J.W (eds.) Open innovation: researching a new paradigm. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2006. p. 2.

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