Annual grant and contract awards secured by UTHSC researchers reached record heights in FY21. The Office of Research reported annual grant and contract awards for FY21, which ended June 30, 2021, totaled $121.7 million, a 20.6% increase from last year.
Sponsored dollars in FY20 were approximately $100.8 million; the FY21 total is currently $121,700,667. Roughly half of these funds come from federal sources. The faculty of all six colleges and four campuses broke records in a number of categories, including proposal count by fiscal year and quarter.
Year over year metrics show a total increase from $85.0 million in FY17 to today’s $121.7 million. This represents a 43% growth in grants and contracts in five years. This growth in funding was a result of a carefully conceived vision and roadmap in the Operational Strategic Plan for Research written in 2016. Vice Chancellor for Research Steve Goodman, PhD, led the creation process; a committee comprised of faculty from all UTHSC colleges and campuses created the content. The VCR’s Research Cabinet, also comprised of faculty from all colleges and campuses, led the plan’s implementation.
“The successes that we have experienced in UTHSC grants and contracts over the past five years is due to the vision and roadmap to accomplish goals set forth in the first edition of the Operational Strategic Plan for Research, the successful grant and contract writing of our faculty, and the support and infrastructure supplied by our deans and chancellery,” Dr. Goodman said. “The large increase in grants and contracts allows our UTHSC researchers to continue and expand their outstanding basic, translational and clinical research programs aimed at improving the health and well-being of all Tennesseans and people around the globe.”
The infrastructure overhaul performed by the Office of Research as part of the five-year 2016 strategic plan allowed the UTHSC research enterprise to remain fully functional during the pandemic, despite the reduced campus presence. Increased staffing, improved resources, and new streamlined and automated processes allowed researchers to successfully adapt, and to advance their projects, despite the physical restrictions in place on all campuses. Specific examples include:
- The unification of Sponsored Programs, which enabled UTHSC to handle a record number of grant and contract submissions, and complete a record number of proposed projects in FY21
- New rapid review processes for proposals submitted to the Institutional Review Board and Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee
- Enhanced communication of research resources and funding opportunities via the creation of two new offices, the Office of Research Development and Research Communications and Marketing
- Writing assistance to improve the quality of scientific manuscripts and grant proposals, via the creation of the Office of Scientific Writing
The past year’s growth was also fueled by a number of initiatives the Office of Research developed to encourage collaboration among researchers statewide, nationally and globally. Some examples of winning strategies put in motion five years ago, which are found in the Operational Strategic Plan for Research, are:
- Creating fertile ground for large interdisciplinary grants by developing new research institutes and consortia, such as the Memphis Consortium on Sickle Cell Disease and Classical Hematology Research; the Tennessee Population Health Consortium; the Tennessee Clinical and Translational Science Institute; the Tennessee Institute of Regenerative Medicine; and the Institute for the Study of Host Pathogen Systems (ISHPS). The ISPHS alone received a multiyear national grant for nearly $23 million in 2017. In 2021, the Office of Research collaborated with the UT Research Foundation to secure approximately $1.2 million in funding to start the Tennessee Population Health Consortium.
- Recruitment of faculty to establish research institutes and centers. Colleen Jonsson, PhD, was hired in 2017 to direct UTHSC’s Regional Biocontainment Lab (RBL) and subsequently created and directs ISHPS. Dr. Jonsson, an Endowed Van Vleet Chair of Excellence in Virology, also played a lead role in UTHSC’s response to the pandemic, converting the RBL to a COVID-19 research facility in early 2020. Her efforts over the last three years have been instrumental in helping UTHSC reach new heights in national recognition and funding, earning her a UT President’s Award in 2021. In 2017, Kenneth Ataga, MD, an internationally recognized expert clinician and researcher in sickle cell disease, was recruited to direct the UTHSC Center for Sickle Cell Disease and the Memphis Consortium for Sickle Cell Disease and Classical Hematology Research, the university’s collaborative efforts in sickle cell disease treatment and research.
- Creation of the Collaborative Research Network (CORNET) Awards, a program that give researchers the initial funding they need to collect data for larger extramural grants while addressing the specific strategic goal of incentivizing collaboration. Since 2016, Dr. Goodman has awarded approximately 63 CORNETs worth a combined $2.26 million. Twenty-five extramurally funded grants, totaling over $28.6 million, have stemmed from CORNET work, a 12.7-fold return on investment. Glen Palmer, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy, this year received a $3.1 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, his third award for work stemming from a CORNET. The return on investment from Dr. Palmer’s initial CORNET totals almost $5 million and exemplifies the success of the CORNET program.
- Providing new grant intramural support to investigators in need of gathering further data to strengthen resubmission of unfunded grants. Wei Li, PhD, professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and director of the UTHSC College of Pharmacy Drug Discovery Center, was awarded $2.27 million from the National Cancer Institute in FY21 for a study that received new grant intramural support.
- Developing an entrepreneurial culture via internal and external collaboration and partnerships, such as the Clinical Trials Network of Tennessee (CTN2). CTN2 is a site management organization that enables UTHSC clinical faculty researchers to design, solicit, and conduct robust statewide clinical trials at multiple partner hospitals and practice plans throughout Tennessee. During its first three years of existence, CTN2 executed 36 clinical trial contracts totaling more than $10 million. These trials included potential therapies for cancer, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, COVID-19 and other major diseases impacting Tennesseans. In FY21 alone, CTN2 contracted for over $6.8 million in trials.