Health Equity

December 16, 2022

VUMC Announces VICTR Leadership Transition

Gordon Bernard, MD, is stepping down from his institutional leadership roles next summer to focus on his research interests.
Gordon Bernard, MD, is stepping down from his institutional leadership roles next summer to focus on his research interests. (photo by Erin O. Smith)

Gordon Bernard, MD, a leader in clinical and translational medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center for more than 40 years, will step aside from his institutional leadership roles in July 2023 to focus more on his research interests and allow a new generation of leaders to take center stage.

Bernard, the Melinda Owen Bass Professor of Medicine, will relinquish his roles as Executive Vice President for Research at VUMC and as senior associate dean for Clinical Sciences in the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

He also will step down as program director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (VICTR) after more than 15 years, although he will remain an investigator on Vanderbilt’s multimillion dollar Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Institutes of Health, which partially supports the institute.

Wesley Self, MD, MPH

“I’m very proud of all of the people in VICTR and with what it has been able to do,” Bernard said. “I think we have a unique organization that I’m not sure exists in any other major academic medical center, and I am delighted to step aside for the next generation of leaders.”

In January 2023, VICTR Deputy Director Wesley Self, MD, MPH, Vice President for Clinical Research Networks & Strategy at VUMC, will be promoted to VUMC Senior Vice President for Clinical Research. In July 2023, he also will be appointed VICTR director and principal investigator for Vanderbilt’s CTSA.

Self, associate professor and vice chair for Research in the Department of Emergency Medicine, is a physician scientist who is nationally known for designing and conducting clinical research and for advancing the treatment of patients with severe infections. He was appointed co-PI of the CTSA in September 2022.

At the national level, Self is the clinical coordinating center PI for multiple clinical trial platforms supported by the NIH, and he is founder and PI for the Influenza and Other Viruses in the Acutely Ill research network supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Dr. Bernard’s humble demeanor belies his substantial contributions to the growth and success of our research enterprise. Coupled with his clinical expertise, he has ushered in game-changing advancements that reshaped the delivery of ICU care here and worldwide,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of VUMC and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “Gordon has advanced the Medical Center to the absolute forefront of clinical investigation, and I am forever grateful for his leadership. I am also thrilled that Dr. Self will continue to advance our national leadership as the new director of VICTR.”

In the next chapter of his career, Bernard said he will focus on increasing the efficiency of the national clinical trial infrastructure, as well as advancing his own research programs in critical care, particularly in the areas of sepsis and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

“I’ve been interested in studying sepsis and ARDS my entire career,” Bernard said. “There’s a lot left to do, and it’s fun. I’m enjoying it, and like they say, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

“Dr. Bernard is a talented clinical investigator, a compassionate physician, and an incredibly kind person who connects equally with colleagues, patients, and the community. We all value Dr. Bernard’s intelligence, judgment and respect for colleagues. As the founding director of our NIH CTSA and VICTR, he advanced Vanderbilt as a prominent national leader in clinical research, a testament to his unwavering commitment to transdisciplinary teams driving improvements in health care,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, Chief Scientific and Strategy Officer for VUMC.

“It has been a tremendous pleasure to partner with Dr. Bernard over the years to oversee VUMC’s research strategy, investment and programs, and learn from him. He is an inspiring mentor, and I am very grateful to him,” Pietenpol said. “Also, I am very excited about all that lies ahead under Dr. Self’s leadership and his ambitious vision for Vanderbilt’s clinical and translational research.”

Bernard is co-principal investigator with Katherine Cahill, MD, assistant professor of Medicine, of GATA-3, a randomized placebo-controlled trial of semaglutide, an FDA-approved treatment for Type 2 diabetes and obesity, in adults with obesity-related, symptomatic asthma despite the use of inhaled steroids.

He will continue to be a PI of Vanderbilt’s Trial Innovation Center (TIC), which since 2016 has investigated how multisite clinical trials of new drugs and therapies can be conducted more rapidly, efficiently and with higher quality.

The center is in competition for the next grant cycle and recently has achieved a priority score of 10.

Since it was founded in 2007, VICTR has fostered the development of innovations including BioVU, Vanderbilt’s DNA repository, ResearchMatch, an online national volunteer recruitment registry launched in 2009, and REDCap, a web-based research management application used worldwide.

Under Bernard’s leadership, VICTR also removed administrative and regulatory roadblocks locally and nationally, including the creation of the IRB Reliance Exchange, a web-based platform supporting single Institutional Review Board review nationally.

VICTR has one of three TICs in the nationwide consortium of more than 50 CTSA “hubs” funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. It has the only Recruitment Innovation Center, which develops and tests innovative approaches to engaging minorities, women and older adults in clinical trials.

Other major collaborative initiatives and programs at VICTR include:

  • The Data and Research Center for All of Us, a national research enterprise of the NIH with 1 million volunteers that aims to extend precision medicine to all diseases. Partners in the DRC include the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Verily Life Sciences.
  • The Coordinating Center for eMERGE, organized and funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute, which combines DNA biorepositories with electronic medical record systems for large-scale, high-throughput genetic research supporting the implementation of genomic medicine.
  • The Drug Repurposing Program, which harnesses the power of genetics to identify new uses for drugs already on the market.
  • The Learning Healthcare System, a platform for integrating clinical research and patient care that enables evidence generated through rigorous studies to inform best practices.
  • Community Engagement research grants and studios, which provide small grants and interactive roundtable “studio” discussions to help researchers refine, design and jumpstart their projects. This startup support has helped dozens of researchers obtain NIH funding, complete their studies and publish their results.
  • The Vanderbilt Coordinating Center (VCC), which provides support for clinical trials led by VUMC through multiple teams — all with the goal of optimizing trial results. One team helps with screening and enrollment, another provides consultation on design and recruitment, and a third serves as a liaison for researchers.
  • The Clinical Research Center, which provides a dedicated inpatient and outpatient full-service research environment for complex studies.

Over the years, Bernard has intentionally created the opportunity for a new cadre of physician investigators to be elevated in clinical and translational leadership roles. In addition to Self, they include:

  • Consuelo Wilkins, MD, MSCI, professor of Medicine, Senior Vice President for Health Equity and Inclusive Excellence for VUMC, and senior associate dean for Health Equity and Inclusive Excellence for the School of Medicine, who will continue in her role as co-principal investigator of the CTSA with Bernard and Self.
  • Todd Rice, MD, MSc, associate professor of Medicine, and Sean Collins, MD, MSCI, professor of Emergency Medicine and director of the Center for Emergency Care Research and Innovation, who will continue in their roles as co-directors of the VCC, which Bernard founded in 1987. Rice, currently medical director for the IRB, VICTR Vice President for Clinical Trials Innovation and Operations, and co-director of the Learning Healthcare System platform, also will become associate VICTR director.
  • Paul Harris, PhD, professor of Biomedical Informatics, Biomedical Engineering, and Biostatistics, who will continue to lead the expanding VICTR Office of Research Informatics. Harris devised and created REDCap, which since its launch in 2004 has seen widespread adoption by more than 6,250 institutional partners and over 1 million end users across 151 countries.

Initially run by a handful of people, VICTR’s staff now exceeds 330, is 96% externally funded, and administrates approximately $100 million in research grants, with responsibility for myriad clinical and translational research support programs locally and nationally.

Jill Pulley, MBA, research professor of Medicine, will continue as VICTR’s executive director, as she has since its inception.

A leading architect of BioVU, the Drug Repurposing Program, and VUMC’s personalized medicine initiative, PREDICT, Pulley has built a robust team with expertise in building and managing complex scientific infrastructure that is unique among academic medical centers.

She will continue her efforts to manage and nurture VICTR staff, capabilities and allocation of resources, all of which have grown substantially during the past 18 years.

“Scientifically integral to the whole research organization, VICTR is composed of professionals and scientists who are there to help everyone else in clinical and translational research get their jobs done,” Bernard said. “It is in absolutely good hands.”

A graduate of Louisiana State University School of Medicine, Bernard received his residency training at the University of Kentucky and subspecialty training in pulmonary and critical care medicine at VUMC.

He joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1981 and two years later was named medical director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit and director of the pulmonary and critical care research programs. He directed the Division of Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine from 2001 to 2007, and at the national level led the NIH ARDS Clinical Network for 20 years.

In addition to his institutional leadership roles, which included associate vice chancellor for Research, Bernard has served as medical director of VUMC’s IRB, as chair of the Pharmacy, Therapeutics, and Diagnostics Committee, and as head of the Office of Contracts Management.

Bernard said he has enjoyed his career at VUMC because “it’s a well-organized place, (and) it has had excellent leadership.”

That doesn’t mean he didn’t check out job offers at other places from time to time. But in every instance, he said, “I’d get back on the plane to come home and thank my lucky stars that I worked here.

“It’s just top notch in both science and health care, and it has a very collegial, collaborative atmosphere,” Bernard said. “People really do want to work together to get things done. We can rely on each other to get the ball across the goal line.”