Published February 19, 2020
The University at Buffalo has been awarded a five-year, $21.7 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue Buffalo’s rapid trajectory growing its health care and research sectors.
The award — from the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences — is in recognition of the dramatic progress UB and its partners have made since UB received its first CTSA in 2015.
The CTSA program is designed to develop innovative solutions that will improve the efficiency, quality and impact of the process for turning observations in the laboratory, clinic and community into interventions that improve the health of individuals and the public.
Renewal of the grant allows researchers and clinicians at UB and its partners in the Buffalo Translational Consortium (BTC) to continue to innovate, speeding the development of new treatments for disease, reducing health disparities and allowing more Western New Yorkers to benefit from clinical research.
The consortium is comprised of the five UB health sciences schools, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, clinical partners UBMD Physicians’ Group, Kaleida Health, Erie County Medical Center and VA Western New York Healthcare System, along with four specialized research institutes on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and five influential community partners.
The CTSA program was developed to help speed the development of new treatments from the lab bench to patients, in large part by getting more patients to participate in and benefit from clinical trials. As many as three-quarters of clinical trials in the U.S. never reach completion due to the inability to recruit enough eligible patients to participate.
One of the clearest signals that UB’s initial CTSA is impacting health care and medical research in Western New York is the jump in the number of clinical trials ongoing in the community, and the number of Western New Yorkers who are currently benefiting.
UB’s success expanding clinical recruitment among patients who experience health disparities is important for the wellbeing of the entire community because Buffalo is a microcosm of what the nation will look like by 2050, says Timothy F. Murphy, MD, CTSI director and principal investigator on the award.
Forty faculty members will work on the various components of the grant.
“Underrepresented minorities make up half of the population of Buffalo,” says Murphy, senior associate dean for clinical and translational research and SUNY Distinguished Professor of medicine at the Jacobs School.
“That’s what the demographics of the U.S. are expected to be in the next 30 years. Unfortunately, fewer than 10 percent of those who enroll in clinical trials nationally are underrepresented minorities,” he says.
“Clearly, what we are doing in Buffalo, by increasing engagement with members of the community who traditionally have not participated in clinical trials, is a remarkable step forward, both for our community and ultimately for the nation’s health care,” Murphy adds.
The increase in clinical trials and their participation rate was accomplished by a comprehensive strategy throughout the BTC and spearheaded by UB to bring researchers, clinical partners and community members together to better understand how to improve participation in clinical trials.
“From 2015 through the end of 2018, the number of Western New Yorkers participating in clinical trials has gone up by 300 percent,” says Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School.
“More than 3,500 Western New Yorkers are now participating in clinical trials at UB and many are those who have been impacted by health disparities,” he says.
The number of underrepresented minorities participating in UB clinical trials has increased from 27 percent in trials before the first CTSA was awarded in 2015 to 37 percent since it was funded — a number that will continue to rise thanks to the new award.
“This funding will provide for an array of new resources that will further our targeted efforts to boost clinical trial recruitment of underserved populations in our city and especially in communities near the Jacobs School,” Cain says.
“Many more people in our community, especially those impacted by health disparities, are now gaining access to the newest and best diagnostic tests and treatments that are available anywhere,” he adds. “Buffalo’s progress has clearly been recognized and rewarded by NIH.”
Current clinical trials at UB range from testing new treatments for diabetes, schizophrenia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and childhood asthma to dementia, preventing obesity in preschoolers, helping pregnant women to stop smoking, and much more.
The CTSI has conducted a Translational Pilot Studies Program since 2015. Supported by the CTSA grant and by UB and its partners, it provides seed funds to research teams. This seed funding has led to $7 million in additional national funding for BTC researchers. Several of these pilot studies focus on engaging people who experience health disparities in clinical research.
The CTSA grant includes an associated mentoring grant, led by Margarita L. Dubocovich, PhD, senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion and SUNY Distinguished Professor of pharmacology and toxicology.
The overall goal of UB’s KL2 Mentored Career Development Program is to train the next generation of clinical and translational scientists, helping them navigate a critical stage of their career toward becoming independent investigators.
This program recruited and trained 10 junior faculty in translational science since 2015, drawing trainees from a broad range of disciplines, including nursing, pharmacy, medicine, cancer science and others.
The new CTSA grant provides continued support for this highly successful program to train faculty from UB and partners to become future leaders in the field.
The new CTSA grant will allow for closer engagement with the community, including:
“EHR data takes the guess work out of determining feasibility and increases the success rate of clinical trials,” Murphy says.
UB’s efforts to improve regional health care by increasing access to groundbreaking clinical trials are aligned with the strategic goals of the university focused on:
Attainment of these goals will advance UB’s ambition to become a Top 25 public research university.
“The renewal of this highly competitive federal research award recognizes the caliber of scientific discoveries being made at the University at Buffalo and unequivocally affirms the positive impact we are making on the communities we serve,” UB President Satish K. Tripathi says.
“Building on the successes we achieved with the original award, the CTSA renewal grant enables our UB researchers to further their investigations into the most vexing health problems, advance critical medical breakthroughs from bench to bedside and — in fulfillment of our university mission — make a positive difference in the lives of people here in Western New York and across the state, the nation and our world,” he adds.