Oct. 23, 2017: Forging Strong Collaborative Links Among CTSA Program Hubs

Answering today’s complex scientific questions requires considerable resources, including deep expertise in multiple disciplines; a wide variety of analytical and computational tools; and access to well-curated, harmonized data. NCATS’ Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program supports more than 50 academic medical institutions — called hubs — each of which is its own translational science powerhouse that is fundamentally collaborative in structure.

NCATS strives to find new ways to help leverage the hubs’ individual strengths through opportunities to collaborate at the regional and national levels, such as through the new CTSA Program Data to Health (CD2H) project. Designed to support the CTSA Program consortium and eventually a broader biomedical research informatics community with open data and software as well as other resources, awardees began work to establish a CD2H coordinating center last month.

Another way that NCATS stimulates the hubs’ research is through the CTSA Program Collaborative Innovation Awards (CCIAs). This support helps foster collaboration among three or more hubs to work together to develop, demonstrate and disseminate innovative experimental approaches to overcoming systemwide translational science roadblocks.

In 2016, NCATS issued the first seven CCIAs to 24 collaborating hubs. Three of these hubs — the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Vanderbilt University and the University of Massachusetts Medical School — are working together on a research project called Strengthening Translational Research in Diverse Enrollment (STRIDE). STRIDE is designed to create an integrated, multilevel, culturally sensitive intervention to engage African Americans and Latinos in translational research.

Another CCIA project involves Boston Children’s Hospital (Harvard University); the University of California, Los Angeles; and the University of Cincinnati in setting up the Disseminating Curative Biological Therapies for Rare Pediatric Diseases Consortium. The goal is to more rapidly translate complex gene and cell therapies to early phase pediatric clinical trials. A network of pediatric centers with unique expertise in complex gene therapies will support investigators across multiple CTSA Program hubs with development of pre-clinical studies, product manufacturing, unique laboratory assays, and regulatory management for clinical trials to assess safety and effectiveness.

In addition to innovating to solve longstanding translational roadblocks, a major strength of the CTSA Program is that it helps foster connections among experts nationwide in wide-ranging fields to respond to emergent health issues. Later this month, I’ll be asking CTSA Program hub investigators to brainstorm with me and other scientists from NCATS and the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse about research needed to develop solutions for one of the greatest crises facing our nation today: the opioid epidemic. A particular challenge of the opioid crisis is that it requires solutions across the translational spectrum, from therapeutic development to new clinical trial strategies to novel recruitment and adherence approaches. The strength and diversity of the CTSA Program hubs constitute a unique national resource that addresses this entire spectrum — a resource that is ideally suited to the effort to get more treatments for the opioid epidemic to more patients more quickly. 

Christopher P. Austin, M.D.
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences