NIH awards $64.6M grant to Case Western Reserve, largest ever in Northeast Ohio

Case Western Reserve University’s ambitious collaboration to bring medical discoveries to patients has won an extraordinary endorsement: a $64.6 million federal grant that is the largest ever awarded in Northeast Ohio.

“Five years ago Cleveland’s leading biomedical institutions came together in an unprecedented partnership that put improved health at the center of everything we do,” said School of Medicine dean Pamela B. Davis, MD, PhD, the grant’s principal investigator. “With today’s award, the National Institutes of Health sent a powerful message to all of us: Keep up the good work.”

Known formally as a Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), the grant exists to advance efforts among scientists and physicians to take promising breakthroughs out of laboratories and into hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices—that is, to where innovations directly benefit those who most need lifesaving treatments. National Institutes of Health (NIH) leaders launched the CTSA program six years ago to accelerate the transition of research ideas to medical applications; today Case Western Reserve is one of 61 lead institutions across the country fostering this pioneering work with hospitals and other health care partners. In this region, the alliance includes Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth System, University Hospitals Case Medical Center and Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center. Richard A. Rudick, MD, vice chair of the Neurological Institute at Cleveland Clinic, serves as the effort’s co-principal investigator. In 2007, the proposal he and Davis authored won $64 million from the NIH, which at the time was the single largest federal research award to the region.

“At that time, none of us knew for sure how this attempt at cooperation actually would work in practice,” said Rudick, who is also a professor of medicine at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve. “But what we found over time was that our shared commitment to work together to advance the health of all patients in our region has driven scientists and investigators in the partner institutions to overcome barriers. Progress has exceeded all expectations. It’s been an honor to work on a project that brings our amazing health care institutions together on behalf of our community.”

Some of the most significant examples of progress involved agreements among institutions that enable scientists and physicians to pursue research across multiple hospitals and health care centers—thus enhancing both the size and diversity of the potential pool of patients. This expansion in turn improved the quality, reliability and relevance of studies’ final results. Such cooperation also involved significant technological investments to enable systems at different sites to work together in a more seamless way. Finally, this spirit of teamwork extended to community organizations as well. The partners together launched nearly a dozen networks aimed at addressing key community health challenges, among them obesity, diabetes and hypertension. The award not only enabled neighborhood-based research, but also provided training to scientists, physicians and community leaders about ways they could work together more effectively to improve the health of residents.

While wellness is the CTSA’s central focus, the first award contributed significant additional gains. Several companies have grown out of needs and solutions identified through the cross-institutional research efforts, which in turn have attracted more than $740 million in private sector funding. In addition, the original federal funding has allowed the collaboration to service more than 1,300 individual scientists and physicians, who in turn went on to win more than $150 million in additional federal grant support. Finally, these scholars produced more than 1,100 peer-reviewed journal articles, which meant that their discoveries have gone on not only to benefit greater Clevelanders, but national discussions about opportunities to defeat chronic diseases. In fact, this spring the Clinical Research Forum, a nonprofit national advocacy organization, announced its inaugural list of the Top 10 Clinical Research Accomplishments of 2010 and 2011. Three of the 10 involved research within Case Western Reserve’s CTSA—the most of any CTSA recipient in the nation.

“The purpose of this new federal grant model is to push institutions to focus ever more squarely on tangible impacts to individuals and society,” said Case Western Reserve president Barbara R. Snyder. “We are pleased that the NIH recognized the remarkable efforts across all of our major partners and the individuals within institutions and community organizations. Together, we all are committed to make even greater progress over the next five years.”

With the foundation of thriving inter-institutional relationships and new technological infrastructure to enable collaboration now in place, the upcoming grant period will capitalize on the rich potential the initiative has to benefit the city, region and state.

“This grant is an excellent example of how the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University continues to bring together partners from Northeast Ohio to support advancements in health care that benefit our entire community,” said Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge. “I am proud to have this world-renowned medical school in my district and am pleased to support their longstanding focus on community health care.”

For example, existing programs aimed at enhancing community awareness and implementation of healthy practices will continue efforts to spread knowledge and encourage sustainable behaviors. By the same token, researchers’ new ability to access literally hundreds of thousands more elements of data will accelerate dramatically their efforts to identify trends in disease, treatment and opportunities for improvement. Finally, the state’s two other CTSA programs—at Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati—earlier began initial conversations regarding opportunities to broaden their individual reach through shared efforts. This year, however, Gov. John Kasich convened the three groups to encourage more active engagement to support both health and economic advances. The resulting conversations have yielded multiple opportunities for joint efforts, and all three parties look forward to the results of those statewide initiatives.

“Partnerships between world class research institutions like Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic, the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, University Hospitals, and MetroHealth have resulted in critical improvements to patient-based research in Northeast Ohio,” U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said. “They are engaging local communities, while training the next generation of researchers and providing a much needed focus on community health.”

The CTSA was funded by a grant (UL1TR000439) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the NIH.