Health organization assists efforts at medical research

by David Hyland

Despite almost a year’s existence, the University’s Research Service Organization doesn’t have a phone number yet.
But the lack of a direct line hasn’t prevented it from helping University researchers start up a dozen clinical studies, with 28 more waiting in the wings.
“We’ve just gotten the infrastructure going,” said Dr. Robert Paller, director of the group at the University’s Academic Health Center.
The organization was created early last year to help foster partnerships between University medical researchers and private companies. The organization was also launched to handle the business end of projects and free up researchers to actually do research.
The four-person organization offers a variety of assistance to the researchers.
“The investigator still retains control for doing the study but doesn’t have to do a lot of the nasty work,” Paller said.
Along with filing various papers and negotiating contracts, the organization also has research nurses available to help researchers conduct studies.
Paller said they are also involved in creating a database of researchers’ expertise to help make matches with the private sector.
Thus far, private sector contacts have been established with pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies to bring new research projects to the University.
Although the organization handles corporate-sponsored research, a majority of the research conducted at the Academic Health Center is sponsored by grants from federal or state governments, or from private foundations.
Leo Furcht, head of lab medicine and pathology in the Academic Health Center, said an expected increase in corporate sponsorship is not a primary goal but would be considered a side benefit by the health center.
“The idea was to really help faculty in whatever way possible … to make it more user-friendly,” Furcht said.
Peter Bitterman, professor of medicine, has been working with the research organization to work out agreements for improving medicine dosage for patients with pneumonia or lung transplant recipients.
“What we’re looking for is an opportunity where our academic focus lines up with a company’s focus,” he said. “I think that works really well.”
Bitterman said because the technology transfer process is often cumbersome and difficult, he shied away from it. However, he said the research organization has provided him with helpful assistance to the business aspects of his work.
“You don’t want a bunch of college professors doing business,” said Bitterman. “It’s not what I do. I think having professional business people take care of the initial parts of it are great.”
The office was launched last spring at the request of a task force led by Furcht. Paller, a professor of medicine, was named to lead the organization last November.