Fuel for Research, From Many Quarters

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Reviewing the many sources of medical research

Funding remains a challenge across the entire U.S. biomedical research enterprise.

At Rush, researchers received outside awards totaling more than $75 million in 2014. Most of the funding came from the federal government — primarily the NIH — as well as from corporate-sponsored clinical trials and private sources.

Between 2007 and 2014, Rush’s level of NIH funding rose from 84th for U.S. medical schools to 67th — the fourth-largest rise in that span — according to a survey compiled by the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research.

NIH awards have been stable the last few years, with a slight uptick for 2015, though federal funding is not increasing as fast it did in the past, said Tom Wilson, assistant vice president of research affairs at Rush. The NIH is setting the bar even higher for the peer review of grant submissions, he added, making it more difficult to receive a grant award.

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Philanthropic donations are another very important source of funding for research. Gifts often come from grateful patients or their families or other donors and can be allotted for specific research programs and pilot grants. The research funding for the study of Ampyra, the MS drug developed at Rush, came completely from private philanthropy.

Rush also began an in-house pilot program that lets faculty compete for seed money to start up new research projects. The awards are generally around $50,000, which won’t cover a long project but can give researchers preliminary data to apply for a larger NIH grant, said Wilson.

Stem cell researcher Dustin Wakeman, PhD, who has been awarded two NIH grants in the past, used his findings from an in-house grant award to receive a research contract with a private company that’s nearly finalized. He’s also applied for an investigator-initiated NIH grant based on the same research results.

Competition today is stronger for both research positions and grant funding, said Wakeman. Rush continues to look at ways to help, including at the PhD training level. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences recently awarded Rush’s Graduate College a nearly $3 million grant to launch an intiative to cultivate and support future researchers from under-represented minorities.

Ultimately a higher bar is good for everyone, said Wakeman. It pushes researchers to work harder and work together.  “We have a common goal,” he said. “Our goal is to help patients.”

— Mark Donahue