Meeting ReportsPartnerships

Working with the CTSA Consortium: What We Bring to the Table

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Science Translational Medicine  22 Dec 2010:
Vol. 2, Issue 63, pp. 63mr5
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3001635

Abstract

In 2006, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiated the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) program to establish premier academic sites designed to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of translational research at the local, regional, and national levels. In February 2010, the NIH sponsored a national CTSA forum on “Promoting Efficient and Effective Collaborations Among Academia, Government, and Industry.” This forum brought together a broad set of stakeholders who were charged with developing a path for promoting such partnerships. One theme, discussed in this meeting report, focused on opportunities and approaches to leverage CTSA institutions as a consortium in fostering public-private partnerships.

PRODUCTIVE PARTNERING

One of the goals of the Consortium of Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) institutions—formed through funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH)—is to foster partnerships that advance the translation of biomedical research to improvements in clinical medicine and human health. The CTSA Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) Key Function Committee (KFC) was established to coordinate and implement such activities. In 2010, the KFC organized the first CTSA-Industry Forum, working with partners from industry, government, and other scientific organizations. As part of the meeting, a breakout session specifically explored the value of the CTSA Consortium as a powerful resource in working with the private sector and external partners. This breakout session focused on highlighting three current CTSA Consortium initiatives and identifying further internal and external opportunities for the Consortium to form productive alliances.

CURRENT CTSA CONSORTIUM INITIATIVES

The CTSA Intellectual Property Initiative

The first presentation was provided by Scott Steele from the University of Rochester, who reported on the activities of the CTSA Intellectual Property (IP) Initiative (CTSA-IP). The CTSA-IP was designed to aggregate and market technologies from CTSA institutions and the NIH, with the goal of enhancing Consortium-wide research alliances and private partnerships. The CTSA-IP Web site (1) is hosted by the University of Rochester and includes a text-searchable interface and regular, automatic updating with a standardized template to facilitate broad participation by CTSA Consortium members. Currently, the NIH and 19 CTSA institutions contribute information about their technologies at various stages of development. Members can use site analytics to track visits and searches. A recent agreement between CTSA-IP and the iBridge (SM) Network—an online community of innovators who share ideas, research, and knowledge (2)—allows CTSA members who also use iBridge to be listed in a new CTSA community on the iBridge site and to more easily share their technologies between CTSA-IP and iBridge. The CTSA-IP portal is currently being made available to CTSA affiliates to further expand contributors and users of this resource.

CTSA-IP has plans to evolve further as a research collaboration tool by helping to link research networking platforms that currently are being developed by CTSA partners. Beyond the partnership with iBridge, CTSA-IP is exploring alliances with research aggregating and networking resources such as eagle-i and VIVO (3, 4). These are independent NIH-supported initiatives that could be linked with CTSA-IP and other platforms for a synergistic effect. An award to Harvard University Medical School supports the establishment of eagle-i as a Web-based database designed to enhance connections between researchers and resources. VIVO, a Web application originally developed by Cornell University and supported by an award to the University of Florida, is creating a social networking site to enhance connectivity between researchers.

ResearchMatch

Gordon Bernard from Vanderbilt University provided an overview of a Web-based tool called ResearchMatch (5). ResearchMatch is a nonprofit recruitment initiative that connects willing volunteers with researchers who are seeking appropriate subjects for their research studies (including but not limited to clinical trials). As a Web-based tool, the ResearchMatch site allows people who are interested in participating in medical research studies to directly register through a process that is convenient, user-friendly, and secure. ResearchMatch is a disease-neutral volunteer recruitment registry that serves as a CTSA Consortium–wide initiative for connecting and appropriately matching interested parties residing in the United States, with thousands of approved researchers who are investigating a wide range of diseases. ResearchMatch was initially developed as a tool for Vanderbilt University and transitioned to a national model in 2008. Current participants include 41 CTSA institutions with a liaison located at each site. This initiative has the potential to substantially expedite the enrollment process for research subjects, ultimately decreasing the time it takes to conduct clinical trials.

i2iConnect

William Barnett from Indiana University outlined i2iConnect (6), a resource that is supported by NIH funding to their Clinical and Translational Science Institute. i2iConnect helps investors and university technology-transfer offices that have IP or invention disclosures to more easily discover relevant industry licensing partners. In return, i2iConnect allows industry to post areas of desired innovation so inventors can better understand needs and product development trends. In its current version, the i2iConnect database is populated by industry participants. It consists of a prototype-searchable database of industry contacts that are looking for innovative ideas and products with interests listed by medical specialty or disease. i2iConnect is a free resource aimed at researchers and innovators in academia and elsewhere to enable them to quickly find potential industry partners interested in their research and technologies.

Innovators subscribe to i2iConnect as an RSS feed or via e-mail. New contacts that are added to a user’s industry of interest become immediately available in the user’s e-mail inbox. The current system is a prototype, and the developers are in the process of partnering with professional associations to increase the number of industry contacts.

OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES

Rebecca Moen from Duke University served as moderator for the panel discussion and facilitated a lively exchange about potential areas of focus. The group further explored the value of the CTSA institutions as a Consortium, raising questions about what policies and structures were in place to promote Consortium-wide initiatives. Much of this discussion focused on further enhancing coordination processes for Consortium members and defining strategic approaches to marketing the value of the CTSA institutions and engaging the private sector.

TACTICAL LEVEL

Investor forum

One action item that emerged from the session was a plan for CTSA members to host a joint forum designed to attract venture capitalists and angel investors by allowing them to view the best research and technologies emerging from the CTSA Consortium. Several CTSA institutions can join forces to hold two such events on the East and West coasts. These meetings could also leverage awardees from the NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants program, which was designed to further advance products toward commercialization, making them increasingly competitive for funding from investors.

Proof-of-concept network

Session attendees supported the formation of a proof-of-concept network, a nimble system that would support small-scale Phase 0–type clinical studies as a way to quickly determine the viability of a new technology or therapeutic. Using this system, industry could more rapidly determine whether success is unlikely and, if so, divert resources to other pathways and products. This “faster fails” method could reduce the overall time and expense of bringing products to market. The use of resources to conduct early proof-of-principle studies to reduce the risk of translational research was identified as a clear gap throughout the meeting, and NIH may consider supporting this type of activity through various programs.

Blackboard and social networking

By displaying online a list of specific research projects or scientific areas of interest, a Blackboard (7), Wiki (8), or similar system could help to identify collaborators and to promote internal and external collaborations with the CTSA Consortium. Pilot sites, such as collaboration opportunities on the CTSA Web site (9), could be further expanded for this purpose. This information would be accessible to outside private sector and academic entities, allowing opportunities to push out research areas of interest and to pull in solutions that address concrete research needs or challenges submitted by external groups.

Additional social networking tools could promote sharing of information among CTSA institutions and foster collaborations among scientists in academia, industry, and government agencies and laboratories. Programs such as CTSA-IP, VIVO, eagle-i, and i2iConnect provide opportunities for further integration to leverage existing initiatives and enhance collaborations.

STRATEGIC ISSUES

CTSA marketing

There was broad agreement that the CTSA Consortium needs to enhance marketing and outreach efforts to increase awareness of the organization and its successes. This would further create a national identity for the Consortium and enhance adoption and use of Consortium-wide initiatives. This function could be addressed within the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) or through one of the KFCs.

Coordination

To further develop and implement these initiatives, coordination among CTSA institutions is critical. This integration could be addressed by the NCRR through the CTSA PPP and would likely be undertaken by subcommittees designed to address specific issues. A CTSA coordinating activity or Center was also discussed as a means to support these efforts.

SUMMARY

Realizing the ultimate potential of CTSA-based PPPs will require a clear coordination structure for the CTSA Consortium and a raising of the awareness of its activities and opportunities among potential partners. To ensure that collective priorities are identified and best practices are adopted, this enhancement of communication must extend to both external collaborators and internal constituents, including the CTSA institutions, NCRR, and NIH Institutes and Centers. Broad integration of these efforts also ensures consistency and transparency when working with potential partners.

Footnotes

  • Citation: S. J. Steele, Working with the CTSA Consortium: What We Bring to the Table. Sci. Transl. Med. 2, 63mr5 (2010).

References and Notes

  1. Acknowledgments: I thank R. Moen, L. Portilla, J. Adamo, and T. Pearson for comments on the manuscript. Funding: This publication was supported with U.S. Federal funds (grant number UL1 RR024160) from the NCRR, NIH, CTSA program, part of the Roadmap Initiative, Re-engineering the Clinical Research Enterprise. The manuscript was approved by the CTSA Consortium Publications Committee.
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