Recommendation: The answer is 17 years, what is the question. Understanding time lags in translational research

Steve Simon


A widely quoted statistic is that it takes 17 years for research to find it’s way from the initial discovery to clinical practice. That statistic has always bothered me. How do you know that it takes this long? How could you measure such a thing? Wouldn’t it depend on the type of discovery? Apparently, I’m not the only one bothered by this statistic. The authors of this research paper looked at all the publications that purported to estimate the time lag between discovery and clinical adoption. They found that different authors used different markers for the date of discovery and the date of clinical adoption. Furthermore, reporting is poor, with little discussion of the variation in the estimated time lag.

Morris ZS, Wooding S, Grant J. The answer is 17 years, what is the question: understanding time lags in translational research. J R Soc Med. 2011;104(12):510-520. doi:10.1258/jrsm.2011.110180. Available at