The intergrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia, iTHRIV, won a $23 million National Institutes of Health grant to collaborate on ways to bring promising lab experiments into clinical practices. iTHRIV was formed by the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Carilion Clinic and Inova Health Systems. Principal investigators are, from left, Dr. Karen Johnston of UVa, Dr. John Niederhuber of Inova, Dr. Warren Bickel of Virginia Tech Carilion and Donald Brown of UVa.

The National Institutes of Health awarded $23 million to a Virginia partnership that includes the state’s top rival universities to jointly advance the pace of bringing medical discoveries out of the lab and into physician practices.

The NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award requires researchers and clinicians at academic health centers to collaborate rather than compete.

Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia teamed up with Carilion Clinic and Inova Health System to form the integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia, or iTHRIV, which was awarded a five-year grant. The Center for Open Science and UVa’s licensing and venture groups are also part of iTHRIV.

Michael Friedlander, Tech’s vice president for health sciences, said the NIH began giving this type of grant to well-established academic health centers about a decade ago in order to shorten the time from making discoveries in research labs to treating patients.

The grant requires that young medical doctors be trained in scientific research and that new scientists be cross-trained in translating lab work into clinics. The partners will also share their data and that of patients, and develop tools to better interpret and use data. And they will engage patients and the communities to improve individual and population health.

Friedlander said Tech and UVa began a few years ago exploring a partnership with Inova and Carilion in order to win a grant that they otherwise would not have earned.

“These are very prestigious awards. It’s really a big deal to get one of these,” he said. “It’s kind of approval that you have hit the big leagues in the academic health centers for clinical and translational research. You are at the table with the top leadership in the country.”

Friedlander said unlike other NIH grants that are awarded to individual researchers, this grant goes to the institutions with NIH as a partner, and provides the framework to share information and best practices with leadership the other 60 academic health centers that have similar grants.

For Virginia Tech and Carilion, which formed an academic health center just a decade ago, gaining access to these types of partners is huge, he said.

“It really says a lot about how far we’ve come in a short time. It’s important for us for the path forward for this academic health center,” Friedlander said.

The Virginia Tech Carilion Academic Health Center includes Carilion Clinic, Tech’s VTC School of Medicine and the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. The research institute is undergoing an expansion and will bring to Roanoke the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine's oncology clinical trials.

One of the steps to bringing promising discoveries out of the lab and to humans is through clinical trials on animals with similar diseases. For example, some breeds of dogs develop similar types of deadly brain tumors as humans, glioblastomas, that are studied at the research institute.

As trials move forward, they expand from single sites to multiple sites, and one of the NIH grant's goals is to remove roadblocks in conducting multi-site trials by having the academic centers devise new ways of collaborating.

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