The new agreement will create a unified, streamlined approach to administering health and medical research, positioning physicians and scientists to conduct more research to benefit patients and populations.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — For decades, researchers at Brown University and the Lifespan and Care New England health systems have envisioned a unified approach to conducting health and medical research that would streamline operations and strategically align the institutions’ research priorities. Now, with the signing of a new aligned research collaboration (ARC) agreement, the vision is one step closer to reality.
The three organizations came to the agreement guided by shared principles and goals. Chief among them is to build a more innovative and efficient approach to conducting research that could ultimately provide greater benefits to Rhode Island, the nation and the world. Currently, overcoming administrative boundaries of conducting research across the universities and health systems can impede progress on important research, and the separation of the three entities can create obstacles to achieving the scale needed for major research grants and collaborations that could lead to breakthroughs.
Under the terms of the ARC, the health systems agreed to align their research operations with Brown’s Division of Biology and Medicine, which includes the Warren Alpert Medical School, and the Brown University School of Public Health in a unified enterprise that will leverage the distinctive strengths of each institution.
The agreement will help Brown, Lifespan and Care New England compete for larger funding opportunities by combining strengths in state-of-the-art research infrastructure, core facilities and specialized equipment. And that cooperative strength will provide new opportunities for clinical trials, allowing Rhode Islanders more access to cutting-edge therapies locally.
“For years, our medical school and public health faculty, many of whom are physician-scientists based in our affiliated hospitals, have said that having three distinct research operations creates undue administrative burden that can at times discourage collaboration that could lead to exciting new biomedical discoveries and benefits for communities,” said Brown University President Christina H. Paxson. “Coming together with Lifespan and Care New England on this shared vision marks a major step forward in enabling our world-class researchers to achieve even greater impact.”
The joint approach to research administration will be governed by a Joint Executive Council with representation from all three institutions led by the dean of medicine and biological sciences at Brown. Financially, each institution will continue to support the research enterprise at existing funding levels, and Brown has committed to investing an additional $20 to $25 million once the agreement is fully operationalized.
Establishing the unified operation is intended to spur research programs with high potential to translate into patient therapies and interventions, by strengthening connections between the basic sciences and clinical research. Doing so will accelerate the process of applying discoveries that enhance the detection and treatment of disease, said Dr. Mukesh K. Jain, dean of medicine and biological sciences at Brown.
“Both Lifespan and Care New England have impactful research portfolios with great talent,” Jain said. “Bringing them together with Brown will allow us all to expand on our existing assets in ways that benefit patients in our community and beyond. The vision being advanced in this agreement integrates research from laboratory to clinical trials to outcomes at the population level across key biomedical domains. I am unaware of any institution regionally or nationally that aligns investigative efforts across the entirety of the research continuum.”
Forming a Joint Executive Council
The ARC agreement was developed jointly in recent months and signed in early November. It outlines the formation of a four-member Joint Executive Council that will provide oversight on the organizations’ work to unify research operations. The parties agreed to a phased approach to implementing essential elements of the ARC — the agreement marks the first phase and will launch discussions on how to fully operationalize the effort, with the Joint Executive Council ultimately needing to approve separate financial and operational plans before final implementation, expected over the next 12 to 18 months.
“This agreement is an initial, but very important, step in aligning research across Brown, Lifespan and Care New England,” said Dr. James E. Fanale, CEO and president of Care New England. “We are confident that from here, we can move forward with operationalizing the plan and putting it into practice.”
The ARC’s operational plan will cover topics including research integrity and compliance, institutional review boards and use of research facilities. It will also outline details about research infrastructure, such as staffing for the numerous positions required to operate research organizations successfully.
The benefits of research alignment are significant, including for patients and residents across the region, leaders from the organizations say.
“By fortifying and streamlining our research efforts, I believe we will also be more competitive in recruiting and retaining the best and brightest faculty, staff and trainees in biomedical and health sciences,” said Arthur Sampson, interim CEO and president of Lifespan.
Ronald Aubert, interim dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said that streamlining processes involved in research administration will be one of the beneficial outcomes of this collaboration — the efficiencies enabled will lead to research productivity that can ultimately benefit patients and populations.
“Having separate administrative structures slows down the research process,” Aubert said. “Currently, if a Brown-based researcher needs to collaborate with a hospital-based faculty member to complete the goals of grant-funded research, they have to work within the often duplicative processes of each system. What we hope to accomplish as we work through the operations piece of this collaboration is to empower our scientists, public health experts and physicians to do their research, not more paperwork.”
While the agreement is not a merger subject to federal or state merger regulations, the organizations are jointly committed to compliance with the strict federal regulations governing research by which each individually abides now.
The agreement comes after Brown recently released its final Operational Plan for Investing in Research, which provides a roadmap for expanding scholarship with the goal of strengthening the positive impact that Brown research has across the world. The University is also investing in new capital projects to expand research capacity. Planning is underway for a new integrated life sciences building; Brown intends to serve as anchor tenant in a public-private life sciences development; and the University signed a new lease for wet lab space at Wexford Science & Technology’s Point 225 building. Each of these projects is located in Providence’s Jewelry District in close proximity to the Warren Alpert Medical School and Care New England and Lifespan hospitals.
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