$55 Million Grant Aims to Speed Benefit of Science

The path from an idea in a lab to a new therapy can be a long one. A new five-year award for $54.6 million has been announced that is intended to accelerate the pace at which clinical and translational research directly benefits patients and communities in North Carolina.

The funds, from the National Institutes of Health, were announced this week to go to UNC, RTI International and N.C. A&T State University.

Launched in 2006, the NIH-led Clinical and Translational Science Award program has enabled research teams to speed discovery and advance science aimed at improving the nation’s health. Institutional CTSA awards are at the heart of the program, providing academic homes for translational sciences. The program currently supports a consortium of about 60 academic medical institutions that is fostering team science, leveraging national resources and transforming the way biomedical research is conducted across the country.

Five years ago, UNC received $61 million in this program, also to speed the benefits of science to people in North Carolina. At that time, UNC was among 14 academic health centers in 11 states that were joining the ranks of the NIH’s Clinical and Translational Science Award consortium.

This new grant is expected to provide another five years of funding for the N.C. Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute, which was new in 2008 and is recognized as the central entity on the UNC campus responsible for the advancement of clinical and translational research. Since its inception as the home of UNC’s CTSA, officials say the institute has fundamentally changed the clinical and translational research landscape at UNC and across the state, with outreach efforts touching each of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

Among its achievements, the institute has provided personalized medicine to 500 North Carolinians across 56 counties who participated in a trial that looked at the impact of a gene variant on the recurrence of breast cancer. The work led to an intervention in which patients received an adjusted chemotherapy dose based on their results.

A smaller project, called Research on Location, helped recruit Spanish-speaking women from one N.C. church and two community health centers in two counties to participate in a pilot study to manage weight gain and prevent Type 2 diabetes.

To increase its impact and scope over the next five years, the translational and clinical sciences institute is expanding its integrated home on campus to include RTI International as a research partner and N.C. A&T as a planning partner.

“We have a large and diverse portfolio of health research, spanning the continuum of clinical and translational science,” said Wayne Holden, president and CEO of RTI International. “This grant provides us a significant opportunity to broaden our cross-institutional partnership with UNC and turn our research into practice to improve the health of North Carolinians. Few topics are more important than advancing health and well-being.”

The partnership with N.C. A&T will give UNC researchers access to the state-of-the-art laboratories at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering while providing A&T faculty collaborative opportunities and financial resources to accelerate discoveries in the lab to patients, particularly those from underrepresented minorities.

The NIH also announced that Duke University is receiving a renewal of a Clinical and Translational Science Award of $47 million over five years, creating an impact of more than $100 million in the Triangle focused on transforming scientific discoveries into treatment of patients. Dr. Robert M. Califf, director of the Duke Translational Medicine Institute and one of the principal investigators for the program supported by the grant, told The News & Observer: “It’s nice that Duke and UNC are in the same boat here, and we’ve got five years to work together instead of competing like we do in sports.”

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