Rutgers-Led Statewide Translational Research Institute Is Awarded $39.7 Million National Institutes of Health Grant

Translational Medicine

The funding will continue the Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program based at Rutgers Health to advance moving research discoveries into clinical practice and improve health care in New Jersey

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded the Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science $39,673,786 over seven years to build and improve upon infrastructure that promotes clinical and translational science through the New Jersey Alliance for Clinical and Translational Science (NJ ACTS).

The Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science will receive the federal funding (grant number UM1TR004789) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences over the next seven years to promote translational science, which uses discoveries made in the laboratory, clinic and community to create interventions that improve the health of individuals and populations – from diagnostics and therapeutics to medical procedures and behavioral health interventions.

The funding, which became active May 1, will enable NJ ACTS to expand and improve its statewide program that was created in 2019 to quickly translate research discoveries into patient care.

NJ ACTS – led by Rutgers and including Princeton University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and RWJBarnabas Health – empowers joint research teams to tackle system-wide scientific and operational problems. The alliance, formed with an initial $29 million in NIH funding in 2019, includes scientists, health care providers, patient advocacy organizations and community members.

“The new $39.7 million NJ ACTS grant marks a pivotal moment for Rutgers Health, providing unprecedented support over seven years to drive clinical translational science forward,” said Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Chancellor Brian Strom, who leads Rutgers Health. “This grant, which was already the first of its kind for New Jersey, amplifies our ability to conduct vital clinical trials and train the next generation of scientists who will ensure New Jersey residents have access to the latest treatments. It aligns perfectly with New Jersey’s status as a global leader in medicine, furthering our commitment to innovation and improving health care outcomes.”

Since the initial award, NJ ACTS has developed an infrastructure of collaboration designed to speed the translation of research discoveries into improved patient care. The effort enables research teams, including scientists, patient advocacy organizations and community members, to tackle system-wide scientific and operational problems in clinical and translational research that no one team can overcome.

 Reynold Panettieri
Reynold Panettieri / Photo: Shelley Kusnetz, Rutgers Health

“It is inspiring to think about how we were able, as a community, to create alliances among academic institutions and clinical, state and community partners, to further clinical and translational research and training that did not exist in the state prior to our award in 2019,” said Reynold Panettieri, vice chancellor for translational medicine and science and director of the Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine and Science. “In addition, our partnership with RWJBarnabas Health gave us a great opportunity to expand our clinical research, connecting the basic science research done by our 200-plus investigators to patient care statewide.”

Together, NJ ACTS institutions reach nearly 7.5 million of the state’s 9 million residents.

The initial grant that formed NJ ACTS proved essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The infrastructure enabled us to pull together a response team and lead influential research studies during the pandemic,” said Panettieri, adding that Rutgers was the second-greatest global recruiter for Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine Phase 3 clinical research trial. “Interestingly, Rutgers alone out-recruited the third-highest global recruiting site, which was the entire country of Colombia,” he said.

Panettieri also pointed to the NJ HEROES TOO outreach campaign, which expanded access to COVID-19 testing for underserved and vulnerable communities. The funding also provided pathways for Rutgers Health to serve as the primary site to discover unique serum markers for the NIH’s pediatric RECOVER Program, providing investigators nationwide with clinical samples to help them better understand the long-term and delayed impacts of COVID-19 in children.

Under the 2019 grant, NJ ACTS:

  • Established and implemented a Clinical Research Data Warehouse, a secure central repository in collaboration with RWJBarnabas Health that includes health care information and analytical tools. The repository, which is compliant with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, allows physicians and researchers to gain insights into medical conditions, outcomes and treatments to help treat patients more effectively or lead to research breakthroughs
  • Built a robust pilot program that funds state-of-the-art research to foster alliance partner collaboration
  • Developed the Clinical Research Coordinator Badge Program, which expedites certification for staff performing clinical trial and research support work
  • Supported the career development of 12 junior faculty, 19 predoctoral and 13 postdoctoral trainees, who have launched studies on topics ranging from understanding how parental mental health impacts children’s health and development to tracking the mortality rate of people with symptomatic gallstone disease since the Medicaid expansion.

The new grant will further advance this framework for translational science in the state, particularly in these core areas:

  • Launch and promote clinical trials – specifically, highly complex non-oncology trials, such as gene therapy – and promote Rutgers as a site for sponsors
  • Continue to build networks for community-engaged research
  • Bolster diverse workforce development, such as training in dissemination and implementation science

Over the next seven years with the latest round of funding, NJ ACTS also will focus on translating evidence on opioid overdose prevention into practice and continuing to advance machine learning projects and generative artificial intelligence capabilities, building on recent achievements such as the development of algorithms for automated detection of COVID-19 from chest X-rays and detecting adverse responses to medications.