We recommend that the UCSF CTSI initiate a grants program to support collaborative, multidisciplinary, translational research (CMTR) at UCSF and, in future years, across the entire UC system.
1. Scale and significance of the problem. Successful translational research requires the collaborative effort of individuals with expertise in a broad range of disciplines, including (among many) bench science, structural biology, chemistry, clinical medicine, and statistics. At UCSF, as at almost all academic research centers, collaboration among faculty and trainees is made difficult by the mechanisms of funding, which reward individual success, and by the measures of academic success, which do not sufficiently reward collaboration. Despite this, there is a strong tradition of collegiality at UCSF and we believe that support for collaborative translational research here will be rewarded with success. This effort can then be scaled to include the other UC campuses, to broaden expertise and access to patients. This would be facilitated by current initiatives to foster collaborations across UC medical centers (e.g., BRAID and UC ReX).
2. Current approaches (nationally). The NIH has stressed the importance of translational research and academic centers have moved to meet this need in a variety of ways. Often, these approaches are “top-down,” including, for example, the creation of new departments or facilities to create lead compounds or to develop screening procedures for drugs. UCSF has in addition utilized “bottom-up” approaches, supporting investigators with concepts that may lead to new therapies, e.g., the T1 Catalyst program and the UCSF/Pfizer Center for Therapeutic Innovation. The CTSI has in particular supported the development of clinical researchers, with notable success. These efforts, however, have not yet succeeded in developing strong partnerships between clinical and basic sciences. Instead, at UCSF, as at most academic medical centers across the nation, basic scientists and clinical scientists work in different worlds, with little overlap. We believe that the CTSI has the power to help change this.
3. Proposed approach and why it is innovative. We propose that the CTSI directly counter the barriers to collaborative translational research by supporting research that promotes synergy among investigators across highly disparate areas of research. Collaboration between clinical and basic science investigators would be especially encouraged. Awards would be for up to $100,000, spent over a period of up to two years. Criteria would include: A. Goals that will advance the possibility of new therapies or diagnostics that will benefit humans with disease. Translation of discoveries made in UCSF laboratories would be given high priority; B. An operational plan that demonstrates how support will promote interactions and collaboration among investigators; C. A path to clinical implementation, even if this is not a goal of the grant. D. Explanation of how the studies will add value to the work such that it is more likely to generate support from other sources.
Applicants would be encouraged to make use of the CTSI resources, e.g., in statistics, study design, patient recruitment, etc. Applications would begin with a one-page pre-application. Selected pre-applicants would be invited to submit a 4-page application for review by a standing committee. Full applications would be accepted at least twice yearly.
During the first two years of the CMTR program it would be limited to UCSF, in order to test approaches and maximize success. In the third year, the program would be expanded to include all UC campuses, thereby enhancing the breadth of expertise as well as the number patients studied. Other UC campuses would be asked to contribute to the costs of the collaborative programs.
Even as we provide support for collaborative, multidisciplinary research, we would initiate programs to facilitate this. Possible approaches include: (1) a research “exchange”, where investigators can post ideas, problems, and requests and where they can ‘recruit’ collaborators – like a Craig’s list for research, (2) work with the sponsors of the proposed “speed dating” approach to linking investigators, (3) leverage Profiles to identify researchers working on areas of possible common interest, (4) create a small leadership team with broad knowledge of programs and individuals at UCSF to serve as “matchmakers” for collaborative research, (5) strive to enhance the culture of collaborative research at UCSF by altering promotion criteria to favor it, and by educating faculty in opportunities for collaborative research, (6) as suggested by the review panel, planning for the CMTR program would benefit from input by non-health care partners regarding methods for fostering cross-disciplinary research, e.g., Technology (Google, Microsoft) or Energy (Schlumberger, Chevron), etc.
By supporting collaboration rather than individual effort, the CMTR program will tap into the great expertise in both clinical and bench science at UCSF. The innovation in this approach is its direct support of a bridge between these domains. Support for team research has long been the approach in industry, but it is little tested in academia.
4. Potential Partners. The proposed program will benefit from several CTSI programs that already exist, including especially the Catalyst Award and the Annual Pilot Awards. Indeed these have overlapping aims with the CMTR program. The CMTR differs substantially in its emphasis on cross-disciplinary research, but there may be opportunity to wed the Catalyst program and/or other CTSI programs to the proposed CMTR program. The CTSI will also be of direct scientific benefit because of its relevant programs for consultation in statistics, patient recruitment, data management, etc.
Within UCSF, we will be assisted by recent efforts to standardize and centralize biobanking and to access information in the biorepositories. We plan to partner with other UC campuses beginning in year 3, and we expect that this will increase funding. For the review of applications, we will use not only UC faculty but also representatives from Pharma, as well as from non-health care partners on methods for fostering cross-disciplinary research as noted above. Pharma is also an expected future partner for successful awardees, and is even a potential partner for the CMTR program itself. Although we do not plan to use patients or disease advocates in reviewing grants, we do plan to use them in reviewing the success and failures of the program.
5. Projected Impact. Translational research inherently carries high risk, with a concomitant high payoff if successful. Because of this, it is our expectation that many of the projects will fail. If they do not, we are probably not assuming enough risk. But the payoff can be very large, as shown by the UCSF Program for Breakthrough Biomedical Research (PIBBR), which supports risky research but has brought in support that is many times greater than the investment.
This proposal is endorsed by: Joe DeRisi (Biochemistry and Biophysics), John Fahy (Medicine), Kathy Giacomini (BioEngineering and Therapeutic Sciences), Steve Hauser (Neurology), Tippi MacKenzie (Surgery), Mike McCune (Medicine), William Seaman (Medicine), Kevin Shannon (Pediatrics), Kevan Shokat (Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology), Eric Small (Medicine) and Zena Werb (Anatomy).