A large clinical research program led by Georgetown and Howard universities, facilitating the participation of more than four million Washington-area residents in clinical trials, has received a $27 million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences awarded a five-year renewal of the prestigious Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) to Georgetown University and Howard University on Aug. 28. The award allows those institutions, as well as the MedStar Health Research Institute (encompassing MedStar Health’s 10 hospitals) and the Washington DC VA Medical Center (with its hospital and five clinics) to continue its broad support of clinical and translational research — improving health care by developing and testing targeted, next generation treatments for all human diseases.
“This collaboration represents one of the largest integrated clinical trials networks in the country,” says Joseph Verbalis, MD, Georgetown’s principal investigator for the CTSA grant. “That matters because it directly impacts patient care.” There are 62 other federally funded CTSA programs in the U.S.
In addition, the grant allows clinical researchers to continue their collaborations with scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to analyze large volumes of dynamic biomedical data with increasing levels of speed and efficiency. (Read more about the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s contribution with high performance computing power.)
The first CTSA grant for $38 million was awarded in 2010 to the two universities. This seeded the formation of the Georgetown-Howard Universities Center for Clinical and Translational Science (GHUCCTS).
“Our mission is not only to stimulate clinical research in the area, but also to encourage the participation of underserved populations and their communities in that research,” explains Thomas Mellman, MD, Howard’s principal investigator of the grant. “The award is also intended to foster the development of the next generation of clinical researchers.”
“The Georgetown-Howard Universities Center for Clinical and Translational Science is an excellent model for creating complex, robust collaborations spanning multiple institutions,” says Edward Healton, MD, MPH, executive vice president at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) and executive dean of the School of Medicine. “Translating research findings from a pre-clinical laboratory to be quickly studied in patients, possibly improving their treatment, is a critical aspect of what research institutions should do. With the work of the renewed CTSA, Georgetown and our collaborators have dramatically accelerated this activity.”
Healton points to a specific example. Recently, Georgetown researchers made a laboratory discovery that suggested an already-approved cancer drug might be beneficial in treating Parkinson’s disease. In 2014, a mere two years after the finding was published, GHUCCTS helped launch a clinical trial to study the observation. Preliminary data has already been generated and will be presented at a scientific conference next month.
“In addition to expediting clinical research, I think the first five years as a CTSA have been marked by extraordinary creative cooperation between our institutions,” Verbalis says. “Our unprecedented data sharing agreement across our participating institutions allows us to identify patients who meet criteria to participate in clinical studies, and to perform those studies in an ethical, scientifically appropriate manner, as rapidly as possible. We then know more quickly whether new therapies can help treat specific diseases.”
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), says the Georgetown-Howard Universities Center for Clinical and Translational program has become an outstanding partnership whose work together is showing that scientific investment on a national level can directly impact patient care.
“In a very short period of time, this program has demonstrated the benefits of coordinated community outreach on increasing access to advanced clinical care. Over time, this will change the health of our citizens. Not only are the scientists and doctors at the forefront of medical discoveries, but now, so are our residents.”
“We will be even more productive during our next phase — we have laid down a solid foundation for GHUCCTS and we’ll now build on it,” Mellman says. “There have been many accomplishments during our first five years.”
During the first five years of funding, more than 440 studies that benefited from GHUCCTS support were published: from pilot grants, to bioinformatics and biostatistical advice, to use of core laboratories across all five GHUCCTS institutions. (Read more about accomplishments made in the last five years.)
In addition to supporting the infrastructure necessary to speed advances in health care, the award supports the training of clinical investigators and provides training in translational science to predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees at Georgetown and Howard, ensuring future success in the field of translational research.
Finally, the community engagement and research component of GHUCCTS ensures community input into research priorities and representation of underserved groups in clinical research studies, thereby ensuring the validity and relevance of results to broad communities.
“By working together, we can and will combine our strengths in ways that will impact health care to a far greater degree than our institutions could do individually,” Verbalis says. “This is the essence of ‘team science.’”