The University of Minnesota lost a federal grant for an institute that helps bring medical advances from the laboratory into clinical practice. U officials hope they will get funding restored next year, but acknowledge that the interruption will lead to some belt-tightening in 2017.
The university first landed the $51 million, five-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant in 2011. It used that money to develop its Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which provides support and training to researchers involved in health care and medical research.
The grant is the largest the U has ever received from the NIH. But officials at the university’s Academic Health Center were notified recently that their proposal to secure a renewal of the grant fell short.
NIH reviewers faulted the proposal for a “lack of an overarching vision,” a lack of diversity in training programs and slow approval times for human subject research.
On the positive side, the reviewers praised the quality of the institute’s leadership along with “an impressive clinical research infrastructure.”
“We’ve done an amazing job of building this enterprise. We started with nothing,” said Tucker LeBien, associate vice president for research at the Academic Health Center.
“We are going to fix the problems that these reviewers have identified, and we are going to get renewed,” he said.
Because the NIH approves only about one out of every five grant applications it receives, LeBien said, the university developed contingency plans in case the grant didn’t get renewed on the first attempt.
It took three tries before the initial application for support was approved, he added.
“Nobody’s going to lose their job. None of these programs are going to disappear,” LeBien said. “But we will have to tighten ship because of a gap in funding.”
In addition to the NIH funding, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute gets $12 million in support annually from the university.
More than 60 research institutions nationwide have received similar types of NIH grants to speed the development of treatments and cures to patients. Additionally, the institutions work collaboratively to share knowledge and expertise.
“We’re still a member of the club until such time that you don’t get renewed permanently,” said LeBien.
But the U is not the only Minnesota institution that missed out on a translational grant renewal. The Rochester-based Mayo Clinic, which first got its funding in 2006, also was not renewed this year. It plans to submit a revised renewal application next month.
“We have made every effort to respond to comments, so we are optimistic the grant will be renewed,” said Susan Barber Lindquist, a media relations representative for the clinic.
The university is expected to resubmit its proposal next year.