Blog Post

Enhancing Academic Medical Center Research: Affiliations With Independent Research Institutes

Enhancing-Academic-Medical-Center-Research Affiliations-With-Independent-Research-Institutes-September-2015

AMCs are increasingly looking to do more with less related to their research enterprises. Competition continues to grow for securing external research funding, recruiting and retaining talented faculty and other researchers, and keeping up with the expensive research infrastructure necessary to conduct cutting-edge science.

Traditional internal sources of support, most notably from clinical activities, are coming under significant pressure and uncertain futures as the healthcare environment shifts toward integration and value.

At the same time, a diverse array of independent research institutes (IRIs), many with long biomedical research histories, are struggling to deliver on their focused missions while operating under business models heavily dependent on robust federal research funding from the NIH and other agencies.

In the last several years, a number of IRIs have ceased operations due to insurmountable financial conditions or have merged with/been acquired by academic institutions.

Opportunities for AMCs

There are intriguing opportunities for AMCs, particularly those in certain geographic locations, to explore partnerships with strong IRIs. If strategically designed and managed, affiliations with IRIs have the potential to strengthen AMCs’ research enterprises in organizationally and financially agile ways.

IRI affiliations can provide AMCs with access to talented, focused research teams that can help to achieve critical mass in strategic research areas. Especially for public AMCs, the more streamlined bureaucracies of IRIs may provide platforms for more rapid research and research-education-patient care innovations.

To IRIs, affiliations can provide faculty appointments for distinguished researchers, access to graduate students and core facilities, important connections to AMCs’ patient care activities, and organizationally-stabilizing links to diversified revenue sources.

Examples of IRIs with AMC affiliations include the Wistar Institute, affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, and the Joslin Diabetes Center, affiliated with Harvard Medical School. Numerous strategic affiliations exist between the University of California System and IRIs. As examples, UCSF has affiliations with the J. David Gladstone Institutes and the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center, and UCSD has affiliations with the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, and J. Craig Venter Institute. The University of Washington has affiliations with IRIs including the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Center for Infectious Disease Research, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

Exploring and Designing AMC-IRI Affiliations

The eight simplified steps and associated questions outlined below can help to guide AMC leadership’s initial thinking on pursuing IRI affiliations.

Assess the current state – Is there a shared understanding of the AMC’s research opportunities and challenges?

Explore the local environment – Are there strong IRIs in the area that could complement the AMC’s research enterprise (and perhaps its educational and/or patient care enterprises)?

Learn from the national landscape – What design lessons can be gathered from other AMCs’ productive affiliations with IRIs?

Develop and initially characterize scenarios – What scenarios can be imagined and what might they offer along a range of dimensions including organizational and financial agility, enhanced research critical mass, and benefits to the translation of research to improved clinical care?

Engage and discuss scenarios with stakeholders – How can the affiliation scenarios be improved via meaningful input from faculty and others?

Model the expected scientific and financial outcomes – What scientific and financial outcomes are expected and over what time periods?

Examine ways to test the affiliation – Are there ways to conduct collaborative experiments before formal affiliation?

Move to quickly establish and implement the relationship – Once the decision has been made, are there mechanisms in place to rapidly establish the partnership and provide the necessary support and nurturing?

This post originally appeared on the athenahealth Health Leadership Forum on August 24, 2015.