How $29M grant will help Rutgers consortium translate research into patient care faster

The New Jersey Alliance for Clinical and Translational Science, an academic consortium at the Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science, celebrated its $29 million grant from the National Institutes of Health with a health care-oriented event last week at Rutgers University’s campus in Piscataway.

“This is the kickoff of something that is absolutely seminal in terms of the progress for our state and for biomedical research, especially for translational research, and a real benchmark in our movement forward,” Robert Barchi, president of Rutgers University, said. “We thank Reynold Panettieri and Brian Strom for having accomplished the Herculean task of bringing this $29 million Clinical and Translational Science Award to Rutgers.”

In partnership with Princeton University and New Jersey Institute of Technology, as well as with RWJBarnabas Health and other hospitals, not-for-profit organizations, community health centers, outpatient practices, industry and pharmaceutical leaders, data centers, policymakers and more, NJACTS will work to translate clinical research into patient care and treatment more quickly, with additional funding from the member institutions growing the funding for the program to nearly $45 million.

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Brian Strom of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.

“Historically, New Jersey has had roughly as many patients enrolled in clinical trials as Kentucky despite its population, diversity and proximity to industry — the goal of this is to dramatically advance that,” Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, said. “With the network that Reynold Panettieri has built, we are now able to reach nearly 7 million of the 9 million people in the state. Leveraging each of our strengths together will create new infrastructure for clinical and translational research across the state; engage patients and communities; work to better incorporate underserved populations; innovate processes and cutting-edge information systems; and cultivate the translational science workforce of the future.”

Coordinated by Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, NJACTS’ mission is to improve health in New Jersey by connecting residents to and engaging them with scientific and clinical innovations; to prompt new clinical trials and decrease the time it takes for scientific discoveries to become cures and therapies; to help train, hire and retain a new scientific workforce in New Jersey; and, with the newest clinical trials right here in the state, to prevent New Jersey residents from having to travel to New York City or Philadelphia for treatment.

It took 185 clinical investigators in New Jersey to help write and research the more than 4,000-page grant request for NJACTS, said Panettieri, vice chancellor and director of the Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science, and professor of medicine at both Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the University of Pennsylvania.

“Today, we’re celebrating not only the grant, but also the raising of critical issues surrounding government, academic and pharma interactions to improve the health care and wellness of New Jersey residents,” Panettieri said.

NJACTS, which is now operating across New Jersey, will receive the grant over five years for joining the NIH’s Clinical and Translational Science Awards program, of which 58 additional hubs have been recognized for their excellence in translational and clinical research.

These recognitions, Panettieri said, provide all involved with an extensive infrastructure in which to pursue and develop incredible research, including in the area of precision medicine, which involves biomarkers, or indicators of an individual’s clinical response to treatment to diminish adverse effects and improve the clinical outcomes that often impact policy and guideline changes.

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Robert Barchi, president of Rutgers University.

“Everyone in this audience who is prescribed a medication will respond differently to it,” he said. “Precision medicine is an exciting opportunity to predict therapeutic response with 85% certainty, so that, when your provider gives you a new medicine, we can be assured that it will work correctly.

“But none of that matters if patients can’t get the medicine because payers won’t provide the resources or if it is not widely adopted by physicians and health systems. All three of these have to align together in a trifecta to give us a new treatment.”

According to Panettieri, NJACTS is designed to do just that. It will build a pipeline, including by funding two positions a year for junior faculty or professionals finishing their post-doctoral fellowship and six positions for graduate students who will be trained in translational and clinical research, and will expand the research for and availability to clinical trials with a new center, increased grant funding, expanded research and use of informatic platforms, and further commercialization of academic discoveries.

“This is a springboard in which to find that best science and move it forward,” Panettieri said.

Barry Ostrowsky, CEO and president of RWJBarnabas Health, said he looks forward to working with NJACTS.

“This incredible initiative is critically important to the mission of a health care system like ours because it is our job, we believe, to make our communities healthier and to make sure that New Jersey residents need not go elsewhere for the kind of care they deserve,” he said.