UAB School of Medicine, continued from page 20 the front end often results in a much larger return on the back end with multiyear NIH funds,” she said.
One Grant is Good. Two Grants are Better. An additional target in leadership’s crosshairs is the bread and butter of NIH funding — the R01 grant. “Most faculty have an R01 grant,” Benveniste said. “These are the primary funding sources to establish and equip a laboratory. So a target for growth is to help an investigator get a second R01 grant.” In 2016, the school launched a mechanism to achieve this goal, with internal funding available to allow investigators to do the necessary preliminary studies and acquire the data needed to apply for a second R01. Eleven investigators were funded in 2016, with a grant of $50,000 per year for two years. Five more received funding in 2017 and six in 2018. “Those funded in 2016 have been largely successful,” Benveniste said. “They are wrapping up now, and the investigators are now using their newly acquired data to apply for new, additional R01 grants. So far, the return on investment for this initiative is 16 to 1.” Along with seed money, the SOM has provided bridge funds drawn from state investment in UAB to help researchers keep their projects going while in the midst of the NIH funding process. More than 40 faculty have received bridge funding since 2015, and more than 70 percent of them have ultimately secured NIH funding. Clinical Side Steps Up Recognizing the importance of seed funding, the school created the Academic Enhancement Fund to provide the necessary resources in 2014. “The fund was created with the support of the clinical enterprise of UAB Medicine, from UAB Health System leadership, UAB Hospital, and the clinical chairs,” said Robert Kimberly, MD, senior associate dean for Clinical and Translational Research. “These funds are central to our ability to compete on a national stage for the NIH grants that can be transformative, not just for UAB, but for the people of our communities.” “That, of course, is the ultimate goal,” said Anupam Agarwal, MD, executive vice dean of the SOM. “Can we, through science, make a meaningful difference in the lives of the people of Alabama?” More Scientists, More Dollars Another strategy to boost the number of research dollars coming into the university is to boost the number of researchers at the university. That can mean attracting new faculty, and hanging onto the ones already here. And the faculty is growing. The number of principal investigators at UAB has climbed from 259 five years ago to 323 at
the start of 2019, an increase of nearly 25 percent. “The older medical schools at the top of the NIH funding list have more faculty than we do, so it stands to reason that they pull in more research dollars,” Agarwal said. “But we’re growing. For example, five years ago the Department of Medicine had just five Career Development Awards from NIH. Now we stand at 29.”
Sharpening the Science Kimberly points to another program, housed in the Center for Clinical and Translational Science, that helps researchers fine-tune their plans. “Investigators can bring their research hypothesis to CCTS, and we organize a panel of peers to review the idea and offer feedback,” Kimberly said.” CCTS has enabled 260 panels since 2017, and Kimberly says investigators who have taken advantage of the program have a success rate in garnering NIH grants that is four times that of the national success rate. UAB’s investment in new burgeoning fields in medicine is also paying dividends. The Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute, the Informatics Institute, Proton Therapy Center and the UAB-HudsonAlpha Center for Genomic Medicine are in cutting-edge fields. All present opportunities for researchers to expand their horizons. The Future “We are currently 21st in NIH funding, and we anticipate moving to somewhere between 15th and 20th over the next three years,” Agarwal said. “We need to have at least 10 departments within the top 10 in their field. We have six now, so we have work to do.” Agarwal says continued funding growth is critical for every pillar of AMC 21, the Health System and School of Medicine’s strategic plan to be the preferred academic health center of the 21st century. A Rising Tide The School of Medicine does not operate in a vacuum. UAB has enjoyed a stream of accomplishments that have touched every facet of the university. Overall research funding to UAB topped $500 million in 2018, and the university just completed its largest fundraising campaign ever — a $30 million naming gift for the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center put the Campaign for UAB over $1 billion. Total NIH funding to all schools within UAB reached nearly $300 million. “Each entity at UAB builds off the efforts and successes of our colleagues across this great university,” Vickers said. “It is the collaborative spirit of UAB that builds partnerships across campus, and the success of each school helps us all reach our goals.”
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Birmingham Medical News
APRIL 2019 • 21
Birmingham Medical News April 2019