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Background: The Clinical and Translational Science Awards Consortium (CTSA program)

Guest content from Christopher Starr:

After years of confusion and neglect, translational research is now becoming institutionalized.

Citing the barriers between the lab and clinic, along with the difficulties and complexities of conducting clinical research, the NIH set up a major program to advance clinical and translational research. The Clinical and Translational Science Awards consortium, or CTSA consortium, was launched in October 2006. Its aims are no less than to “catalyze the development of a new discipline of clinical and translational science.”

The CTSA consortium consists of major academic health institutions, like the Mayo Clinic or John Hopkins University, who are given large grants by the NIH. The grants are used to develop centers for translational and clinical research. These centers set up graduate programs and advance research in a variety of ways, including developing partnerships with industry and other private and public institutions. By 2012, 60 institutions will be “linked together to energize the discipline of clinical and translational science.” The NIH is not skimping on this initiative, as it plans on funding the completed program to the tune of $500 million per year.

Although “translational research” is a varied term, the CTSA will mostly focus on research that is relevant to industry. According to an article by Steven H. Woolf in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), two major areas have been defined, called T1 and T2. T1 is more applicable to industry, as it involves “the transfer of new understandings of disease mechanisms gained in the laboratory into the development of new methods for diagnosis, therapy, and prevention and their first testing in humans.” T2 involves “the translation of results from clinical studies into everyday clinical practice and health decision making.” The CTSA program seems to mainly focus on T1.

Although the CTSA program is young, there have already been examples that show how partnering with CTSA researchers can benefit pharmaceutical companies. One is the Yale Clinical trial network, which should streamline and improve the clinical trials process for the companies that are part of it. Among other goals, the network will remove barriers to clinical trials and promote trial participation. There is also at least one example of a cross licensing agreement between a CTSA funded researcher and industry. Dr. Daniel Rader, at the University of Pennsylvania, took advantage of his university’s CTSA to develop an MTP inhibitor that was very effective in treating a rare disease called familial hypercholesterolemia. Seeing the potential of lower doses of the drug to treat patients at risk of heart disease, Aegerion Pharmaceuticals is developing the drug for this purpose.

CTSA consortium grants work as individualized cooperative agreements between the NIH and the grantee. This means that each CTSA institution will be organized differently. Individual CTSA’s will have varying degrees of openness to participants from industry. However, the ones that are very open to industry participation present extensive opportunities. One example of an industry-friendly CTSA is the Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences (ICTS) in St. Louis. According to their website, individuals from companies that collaborate with an ICTS-affiliated academic researcher can register for ICTS membership. Benefits of membership include access to research facilities, access to consulting services, and increased potential for further collaboration with ICTS-affiliated academic researchers.

Further information, including a list of all current CTSA institutions, is available at www.ctsaweb.org.

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