Grant vaults UMass Medical School into elite consortium moving lab discoveries into clinical treatment

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John Sullivan John Sullivan, MD, vice provost for research, stands in the under-construction Clinical Research Center in the Ambulatory Care Center, slated to open this summer.

UMass Medical School has been awarded a prestigious $20 million grant that has the power to transform the institution, the community and the region. Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) places UMMS among an elite consortium  of 55 nationally prominent research institutions that is working to move laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients, engage communities in clinical research and train a new generation researchers.

Launched in 2006, the CTSA program—led by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) of the NIH—creates academic homes for clinical and translational science at research institutions across the country. A major goal of the program is to develop teams of investigators from various fields of research who can take scientific discoveries in the laboratory and turn them into treatments and strategies for patients in the clinic. By encouraging collaboration across disciplines, CTSAs support innovative approaches to tackle research challenges and train clinical and translational researchers.

Michael F. Collins Chancellor Michael F. Collins

“With this extraordinary grant, the National Institutes of Health has recognized the outstanding research taking place at UMass Medical School and has invested in the promise of future life-saving therapeutics that will result from our research,” said UMMS Chancellor Michael F. Collins. “This is an incredibly proud moment for UMass, UMass Medical School, our clinical partner UMass Memorial Health Care and the  many individuals and departments throughout the UMass system who contributed to the successful application. It signals the beginning of a new era, one in which UMass is a major player in translational research. The life sciences moment is indeed here.”

The UMMS grant will be disbursed in five annual $4 million installments and will support the recently established University of Massachusetts Center for Clinical and Translational Science (UMCCTS), which serves as the home for clinical and translational scientists and research across all five UMass campuses.

The primary goals of the UMCCTS are to:

  • accelerate early phase clinical trials by recruiting and supporting clinical research leaders, establishing innovative research support facilities and developing new therapeutics based on UMass discoveries;
  • integrate unique networks of clinical research and health care delivery in central New England and throughout Massachusetts to expand later phase clinical trials; and
  • build collaboration among the three schools of UMMS and across the five UMass campuses in developing programs, curricula and faculty support systems that foster and promote careers in clinical and translational research.

A number of these goals are already well underway. The establishment in 2008 of the UMMS Department of Quantitative Health Sciences created a home for investigators and core services in biostatistics and study design, epidemiology, and outcomes research and medical informatics. Development of MICARD (Massachusetts Integrated Clinical Academic Research Database) created a warehouse for clinical data on 50 percent of the residents in Central Massachusetts and will house all the data that supports the newly created Conquering Diseases Biorepository, a resource for banking blood samples donated by UMass Memorial Medical Center patients. Academic programs to prepare and support the next generation of clinical and translational  researchers have been created or expanded, including a new master’s program in clinical investigation that awarded its first degrees this year; a new clinical research certificate program for established research and health care professionals; and new clinical research pathways for students across the educational spectrum, from kindergarten to medical school.

Key to the grant application’s success—and unique to UMMS—are three components of the UMCCTS that are also, not surprisingly, key to the UMMS mission and vision for the future:

  • Advanced Therapeutics Cluster, which includes the RNA Therapeutics Institute, the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, and the Gene Therapy Center, all of which offer unique opportunities for the discovery of new disease targets and the development of new therapeutic agents for a wide range of human diseases.
  • Commonwealth Medicine, which fosters partnerships with public sector agencies to translate research evidence into practice and foster policy change that benefits underserved populations. Commonwealth Medicine’s resources, infrastructure and strong ties with state governmental agencies provide researchers with a unique and direct link to policymakers. In turn, this creates the potential to have research findings both directly and indirectly impact the development and implementation of programs focused on improving the health of the citizens of Massachusetts.
  • MassBiologics, the only FDA-licensed biologics production facility owned and operated by a university in the United States, which has generated fully humanized monoclonal antibodies for SARS, rabies and hepatitis C.

“This CTSA catapults UMass Medical School into the upper ranks of research institutions, positioning us alongside institutions like Harvard, Johns Hopkins and UCSF,” said John Sullivan, MD, vice provost for research and professor of pediatrics and molecular genetics & microbiology. “The funds will allow us, through our Center for Clinical and Translational Science, to take the fantastic knowledge base here and apply it to clinical applications that have direct impact on human diseases, such as diabetes, Alzheimer's and cancer.”

To see leaders from across UMMS reflect on the prestigious award, plus get a sneak peek inside the soon-to-open Ambulatory Care Center where clinical and translational research will have a permanent home, view the video here.