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Advancing Research at University Hospitals

Our strong historical foundation will lead to tomorrow’s discoveries

UH Clinical Update - February 2018

By Mukesh K. Jain, MD
Chief Scientific Officer, University Hospitals

Mukesh K. Jain, MD

University Hospitals has a rich history of contributions to science and medicine that have advanced the standard of care to improve human health.

Research is a defining characteristic of our academic medical center, and it is one of the pillars of our tri-partite mission: To Heal. To Teach. To Discover.

Research creates enormous value – it improves the health of our community, attracts patients who seek state-of-the-art care, enriches the training of physicians and allied healthcare workers, and enables the recruitment of top-tier physicians and scientists. It also enhances our reputation and inspires philanthropic support for our mission. And finally, there is its economic impact — by some estimates every $1 invested in research translates to $2.60 in economic activity in the community.

Research is part of our DNA as an organization. A small sampling of UH’s contributions in its 150-plus year history include insights that led to iodine supplementation for treatment of goiter (Marine, 1917), tetanus vaccine (Pillemmer, 1946), innovative techniques in heart surgery (Beck 1930-1950s), development of the heparin lock (Stern, 1972), novel treatments for psychiatric disease (Meltzer, 1988), X-chromosome inactivation (Willard, 1994), stool tests for colon cancer (S. Markowitz, 2005), and new insights into the management of hypertension (Wright, 2015).

As a comprehensive, integrated, academic health system, our research enterprise spans the full spectrum – from basic/translational to clinical/population research. The total research portfolio in 2017 was $164 million in sponsored funding. This includes UH federal funding, in conjunction with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine (about $79 million), non-federal grants ($29 million) and clinical trials ($56 million). The UH Clinical Research Center is home to the largest clinical trial site in northeast Ohio with more than 1,000 active trials.

And The Harrington Project for Drug Discovery & Development, a unique $300 million initiative based at UH, continues to garner international praise as an innovative model for supporting drug discovery and development. Over the past five years, this initiative has supported 75 scholars across the nation, launched 20 companies, licensed five programs to large pharmaceutical companies, advanced four first-in-class therapies into patents, and raised $300 million. The Harrington Project has supported a number of UH investigators developing therapeutics to treat cancer (Drs. David Wald, Clark Distelhorst, Sanford Markowitz), immune disorders (Drs. John Letterio, Daniel Simon), infectious diseases (Dr. Robert Bonomo), and respiratory disorders (Dr. Benjamin Gaston).

As strong as our research enterprise is, however, there is always room to improve. Our engagement with faculty, leadership, and a consultant team over the past year has provided significant insights into our academic strengths as well as the challenges we face. To position us for success, we have established University Hospitals Research Division (UHRD), a new operating structure to manage academic efforts. New leadership has been put in place, including Grace McComsey, MD, FIDSA, as the Director of UH Clinical Research Center (UHCRC), and Deborah Soblosky, as Finance Director of Academic Services.

UH has also invested in efforts to increase financial compensation for research faculty and to augment infrastructure to facilitate clinical research through the UHCRC (such as the acquisition of a Clinical Trials Management System and increased legal and biostatistical support). And we have doubled down in our efforts to recruit top-tier researchers and leaders. Key additions to our faculty during the past six months include: Theodoros Teknos, MD, President and Scientific Director, UH Seidman Cancer Center; Quintin Pan, PhD, Deputy Director for Research, UH Seidman Cancer Center; Andrew Pieper, MD, PhD, Staff Psychiatrist and Investigator, Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals; Atul Chopra, MD, PhD, Physician and Investigator, Harrington Discovery Institute; and Marlene Miller, MD, Pediatrician-in-Chief for UH and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

Looking ahead, UH leadership remains focused on evolving into a next-generation academic health system that embraces novel and diverse collaborations, leverages and aligns its academic strategy with its clinical strengths, and creates a culture of life-long learning that trains the next generation of physicians and investigators. We are confident that our faculty will continue to be invigorated by the manifold opportunities to excel academically and support the new UH vision statement, Advancing the Science of Health and the Art of Compassion.