The Big Tent

CTSI 2016 NIH Renewal Proposal Launchpad

Grants program for collaborative, multidisciplinary, translational research

Proposal Status: 

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).



Supporting Documents: 


I am looking forward to the discussion of this proposal at the retreat in light of the recent accomplishments of the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health and their successful NIH application to join the Contraceptive Clinical Trials Network:


Overview for CTSI Retreat Discussion:

1. Summarize the problem being addressed. Please make sure this is NOT disease-specific.

The problem is that translational research requires expertise from many domains, and many factors work to isolate investigators within their individual domains. These factors include the necessity for independent work in obtaining grants and in gaining academic promotion. Also, investigators in different areas lack a common ground for discussion. We wish to overcome these barriers to collaboration.


2. Summarize the solution being proposed. Please make sure this is NOT disease-specific, although you can provide examples of specific test cases.

We propose to overcome the barriers to collaborative translational research by allocating relatively small pilot grants (up to $100,000 over two years) in support of start-up collaborations between at least two departments, with emphasis on linking at least one clinical department and one basic science department. We would begin the program at UCSF and expand it to include all UC campuses.

3. What partners are involved in the solution?

All members of the faculty would be eligible to apply. Because of the inclusive nature of the program, it would apply broadly across the campuses, beginning at UCSF and expanding to include all UC campuses.


4.What is the potential impact?

All grants will have the important impact of creating new synergistic interactions in translational research. Expanding the program across the UC campuses will offer even broader opportunities for collaborative research. Nonetheless, start-up collaborations in translational research carry a high risk of failure. We accept this, because any successes have the potential for payoff in developing new therapies or diagnostics for patients.

How do we maximize impact and broad applicability of the proposal?
Grant making mechanism, speed dating, but moving toward an intervention to tackle the real barriers; application group use a means to identify what's work and we could help them

[re-word?] Clinical agency/site - worry about defining by departments; true multidisciplinary project

What foundation exists on campus already that will ensure success of the initiative?
Effort for biobanking at the Cancer Center
System for investigators to access information in the biorepository (Trial share infrastructure)
Profiles - people searching through CTSI
SOS - $1million dollars per year in 2 cycles, could give 3 - $100,000 grant per cycle, could we change REAC and RAP

Radical IDEA: Turn all grants into multidisciplinary grants...Jr. Faculty need to pick a team in order to move forward in advancement and promotion

Should SOS funds support infrastructure

What creative and/or innovative partnerships could be leveraged to ensure success?
Is there a place for industry?
Matching programs for funds for projects?
Plan to grow or start across institutions?
Spending money on logistics to solve problems across campuses?

Review committee: Create a creative review committee, adding a patient advocate


Thank you, Monica.  I have submitted a revised application, incorporating your suggestions.  I also appreciate the "radical idea," of turning all CTSI grants into multidisciplinary grants and having invesigators pick teams for their work!  (But I thought it would be going a bit far to put that as part of our aims.)

CTSI 2013 Retreat Workgroup Discussion Summary:

The workgroup unanimously agreed that the proposal is meritorious and will be a valuable component to the CTSI grant renewal. The workgroup, which consisted of individuals with broad experiences in the challenges and opportunities of translational research, proposed several important additions to the proposal to maximize its reach and impact.

1. How do we maximize impact and broad applicability of the proposal?

The workgroup suggests that the proposed grant mechanism should be bolstered by key enabling infrastructure, including tools to identify potential collaborators, enable input from external stakeholders (such as community advocates and industry), and train investigators in team science.

Specific suggestions include:

  • Leveraging Profiles to help identify researchers working on particular research areas and seeking potential collaborations
  • An exchange where researchers can ‘post’ problems and requests and ‘recruit’ collaborators - like a ‘Craigslist’ for research. Maybe including a ‘bartering’ system.
  • Including the voice of the patient/community and industry. This could be achieved either through a public Open Proposal system, or by inviting these stakeholders to the proposal review panel.
  • Identify and promote the use of existing UCSF and external tissue/information databases
  • Educating and training researchers on the value of team science

2. What foundation exists on campus already that will ensure success of the initiative?

UCSF Profiles succeeds in helping researchers identify experts and network with others in particular fields. Including tools that specifically promote collaboration may be useful - e.g. enabling researchers to ‘post’ requests for collaborators, or automatically suggesting potential collaborators through matching interests. There are a few other groups using software such as Chatter, Poster Listserv and Eagle Eye to accomplish this goal.

The Catalyst Awards program leverages public/private partnerships and seed funding to support translational research at UCSF. There is currently no emphasis on multidisciplinary teams, but more often than not, collaborations between a diverse researchers lead to the most successful projects. There may be a potential for leveraging the Catalyst mechanism to expedite the implementation of the proposed project.

3. What creative and/or innovative partnerships could be leveraged to ensure success?

Partnerships are a key aspect of maximizing the impact of the proposed project. Partners are critical as reviewers and potential research collaborators. Key partners include stakeholders such as:providers, payors and industry. The panel also suggested engaging with non-healthcare related partners with similar research challenges, to identify and leverage the tools and approaches that succeed in other industries - e.g. Technology (Google, Microsoft, etc.), Energy (Schlumberger, Chevron, etc...).

Thank you Kirsten and all members of the Retreat Workgroup for you extensive help.  I have posted a revised proposal, incorporating your suggestions, and I welcome any additional thoughts.

Some thoughts from CTSI Retreat / Leadership panel with UCSF Deans:


CTSI is well poised to facilitate multi-disciplinary collaboration opportunities.  There is a huge gap between basic and clinical researchers at UCSF, which could be helped if there were established opportunities for collaboration. The potential for success is greater if there is a financial commitment from CTSI as an incentive.    Dean Guglielmo noted that the problem of silos is universal in other CTSAs as well.  One suggestion to decrease disciplinary silos is to expose graduate students to clinical research early in their training. 

These comments are appreciated.  I agree with the suggestion at the end, which could be undertaken in conjunction with our  proposal (and our proposal might provide an incentive for graduate students to learn more about opportunities for collaborative research).

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