School of Medicine to receive hefty grant

Yale will receive a $31.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health — one of the largest such grants in the University’s history — under a new program supporting clinical research.

The five-year grant was one of 12 Clinical and Translational Science Awards announced Tuesday and will allow the School of Medicine to expand research and training programs centered on applying discoveries made in the lab to human health, including testing new drugs. Yale, already well-known for its basic science research, stands to cement its reputation as a center for all aspects of biomedical research with the grant’s help, administrators said.

Though the University receives hundreds of millions of dollars in NIH funding each year, a grant of this size is unprecedented. Robert Alpern, dean of the School of Medicine, said it is the largest NIH grant to Yale that he knows of.

As an infrastructure grant, the award will primarily go to funding the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation, creating a support network for increased clinical and translational research and education. The YCCI was formed in fall 2005, soon before the request for proposals for the CTSA was announced, as part of the school’s strategic plan. Robert Sherwin, director of YCCI and the principal investigator on the CTSA grant, said the funding will also bolster existing clinical research programs, such as the General Clinical Research Center, located at Yale-New Haven Hospital and headed by Sherwin.

“We don’t have a convenient outpatient center or infrastructure for regulatory affairs, contracts, or support for grants,” he said. “There are a lot of pieces that the GCRC tries to do but can’t really accomplish.”

Alpern contrasted the support services for clinical research with those now available for basic science. He said investigators working on patient-oriented projects had to figure out how to do everything themselves, while multiple core facilities, such as for electron microscopy, were available for faculty working on lab-based research.

YCCI will be housed at 2 Church St. South in an existing medical school building. It will be a center for new administrative offices, funded through the CTSA grant, that will provide assistance for faculty members with patient recruitment and developing new programs. The building will also house a new outpatient clinical research center, which Sherwin said will be more convenient for patients.

Yale has had central support services available for some clinical trials since 1960 through the General Clinical Research Center. The GCRC will still function, but now as a part of YCCI. It focuses on high-risk studies requiring careful nursing supervision that are difficult to conduct outside a hospital, Sherwin said.

The CTSA program reflects a growing interest in strengthening clinical research across the board, Alpern said.

“This was unusually fast,” he said. “[NIH] wanted it to be funded in the 2007 fiscal year, which we are in now. What the NIH realized is they were very good at supporting that one narrow kind of clinical research [through the GCRC program].”

But the grant money will not just sponsor the current generation of clinical research. Yale’s Investigative Medicine Program, which offers training to physicians interested in patient-oriented research, will likely expand using some of the CTSA award, said Eugene Shapiro, deputy director of the program and head of its clinical research component. The IMP is one of only a handful of programs nationwide to offer a doctorate to postgraduate medical fellows, he said, and it also provides support to physicians in training and faculty with courses on, for example, research design and biostatistics. A master’s program to offer junior faculty additional training is being planned, he said.

YCCI will not be limited to the medical campus either. Sherwin said that the center will include the schools of Nursing and Public Health and will give support for biomedical engineering, as well.

Yale has typically been known as a center for basic science, not clinical research, faculty and administrators said, but winning this grant signals how strong the program in clinical research is becoming.

“The Department of Medicine has a much stronger history in lab and bench research than clinical and translational research,” said Mary Tinetti, associate chair for clinical research in the department.

But Alpern said the clinical research program has always been strong. He said every research-based medical school is more well-known for basic than clinical research.

“I think our getting the grant shows our clinical research is good,” he said. “Every top medical school knew about [the CTSA application].”

Only 12 of the 35 academic health centers that applied received funding, Penny Cook, executive director of grants and contracts administration at the Medical School, said in an e-mail. The 23 schools Yale beat out represent some of the best in the country, as only the top schools considered applying for the full grant this year, Alpern said. Another 52 schools were awarded planning grants and NIH plans to have 60 full CTSA grants within five to seven years, Cook said.

Yale made the cut for its strong history in medical research, said Anthony Hayward, director of the Division for Clinical Research Resources at the National Center for Research Resources, the agency within NIH that awarded the grants. He cited the University’s groups working on immunology, behavioral issues, neuroimaging and diabetes in particular.

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