April 6, 2022

Major grant renewal to provide five more years of support for VICTR

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has competed successfully for a third renewal of its Clinical and Translational Science Award by the National Institutes of Health.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has competed successfully for a third renewal of its Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), VUMC officials announced this week.

The grant will provide more than $73 million for another five years to support the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (VICTR) and its efforts to speed the translation of scientific discoveries from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside.

Since its initial funding in 2007, VUMC’s CTSA home, VICTR, has grown exponentially. It “has transformed the clinical and translational landscape at Vanderbilt,” said Gordon Bernard, MD, Melinda Bass Owen Professor of Medicine, VICTR’s founding director, and the CTSA’s co-principal investigator with Consuelo Wilkins, MD, MSCI.

A key strength is VICTR’s long-standing partnership with Meharry Medical College, the nation’s largest private, historically Black academic health care center dedicated to educating health care professionals and biomedical scientists.

“Our CTSA award has been instrumental in creating a community of scientists who work across Vanderbilt and Meharry to enhance the quality and efficiency of research,” said Wilkins, VUMC Senior Vice President, senior associate dean for Health Equity and Inclusive Excellence, and professor of Medicine.

“It has been a catalyst for clinical research and discovery to improve human health,” she said.

Several innovations from VICTR during the past 15 years have had national and worldwide impact. They include:

  • ResearchMatch, an online national volunteer recruitment registry that matches potential research subjects with investigators conducting clinical studies at 179 institutions around the country.
  • REDCap, a secure, web-based application for building and managing online research databases that serves more than 4,500 institutional partners in 139 countries.
  • BioVU, one of the most comprehensive collections of DNA and other biological materials stored at a single site. With more than 275,000 DNA specimens linked to de-identified electronic health records, BioVU has enabled large-scale innovative research of genotype-phenotype associations that to date has generated 325 studies resulting in 460 publications.

During the past two years, VICTR helped lead or served as coordinating center of several national clinical trials of potential COVID-19 treatments, including convalescent donor plasma, hydroxychloroquine, repurposed drugs, and the NECTAR trial of investigational drugs to prevent the vascular, fibrotic and inflammatory consequences of severe COVID-19 disease.

Disproportionately higher rates of severe illness and death from COVID-19 have been recorded among Black and other racial and ethnic minorities, as well as the homeless, incarcerated and low-income communities in general.

A priority of VICTR for the next five years is to encourage and facilitate more research on the causes of health disparities. For example, investigators have begun to explore racial differences in the deidentified electronic health records (called the Synthetic Derivative) that are linked to DNA samples in BioVU.

Wilkins is principal investigator of the Vanderbilt-Miami-Meharry Center of Excellence in Precision Medicine and Public Health, established in 2016 to apply precision medicine to the elimination of health care disparities.

Two other VICTR priorities include:

  • An optional, drug repurposing module, unique to VUMC’s CTSA, that is setting up a systematic genomics-based approach for identifying, testing and—with the help of industry—bringing to market new applications for existing drugs.
  • Expansion of the Learning Health System platform to generate evidence for the content and processes of clinical care through carefully designed, rigorous studies. The LHS platform is a pillar of VUMC’s culture of “learning from what we do and doing what we learn.”

More than 50 medical research institutions in 30 states and the District of Columbia receive CTSA funding through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), part of the NIH.

VICTR plays leadership roles in several other national initiatives. Among them:

  • Serving as the Data and Research Center for the landmark All of Us study, an NIH precision medicine research initiative that seeks to enroll a million participants in research designed to accelerate the understanding, treatment, and prevention of disease.
  • Studying ways to conduct multisite clinical trials of new drugs and therapies in children and adults more rapidly and efficiently through a Trial Innovation Center operated jointly with the Duke Clinical Research Institute.
  • Developing and testing innovative approaches for engaging minorities, women and older adults in clinical research through its Recruitment Innovation Center.
  • Advancing pharmacogenomics through the PREDICT program, which applies genomic testing to drug prescribing to avoid adverse drug reactions.
  • Empowering patients, families, communities and stakeholders of all types to give insightful feedback on the development, implementation, and dissemination of research projects and health promotion strategies through VICTR’s Community Engaged Research Core, its Community Engagement Studios and the Community Advisory Council.

VICTR Executive Director Jill Pulley, MBA, credited the program’s “thoughtful team of collaborators and exceptional community advisors” for helping to secure CTSA funding for another five years.

The renewal, she said, will support “innovative infrastructure to improve the efficiency, quality, impact, inclusiveness and pace of clinical research for VUMC and beyond.”