An areal view of MCV campus in downtown richmond at night. All the buildings' windows are lit up, along with street lights.

NIH renews grant for VCU center that takes new treatments from basic research to the community

The $27.5 million award is the largest NIH grant in VCU history and comes amid a transformational year for the university’s research enterprise.

Share this story

Virginia Commonwealth University won its largest grant ever from the National Institutes of Health, a seven-year, $27.5 million grant to renew funding for a center focused on moving new therapeutics from laboratory bench to community treatment and extending its reach to reduce health disparities across the region.

This latest grant to the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research allows the center to grow a new regional partnership to advance health equity through translational science that actively engages diverse communities, train a diverse research workforce and support the rapid implementation of innovative clinical and translational science that advances the scientific study of human health.

“VCU is a model of what a public research university and health system should be — responsive to the pressing needs of our communities and immersed in research that solves vexing problems, addresses inequities and lifts and saves lives,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health. “This latest investment by the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences will support our regional collaboration to turn research into treatments for patients, engage our diverse communities and train the next generation of caring and thoughtful clinical researchers.”

The grant renewal is the latest institutional achievement for VCU’s research enterprise in the past year. Last fall, the university announced that it had received an historic high of over $405 million in sponsored research funding for the previous fiscal year. VCU was named No. 50 among the nation’s top public research universities and earned multiple designations in recognition of the school’s high caliber of innovation and entrepreneurship. A year ago, VCU received its largest gift ever, a $104 million donation to fund a new institute in its efforts to stop, prevent and reverse liver disease.

Last year, the Wright Center formed the Wright Regional Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CSTS) in a joint venture with Eastern Virginia Medical School, Old Dominion University and Virginia State University. This latest NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) award will support the regional center’s efforts in clinical and translational science research and practice, integrating research, providing training to grow community engagement in research, diversifying patient populations, encouraging greater diversity among new clinician researchers entering the workforce and engaging in cutting-edge research in informatics. Another collaborating institution, the Richmond VA Medical Center, extends the center’s clinical research efforts to veterans and individuals who live in Virginia’s rural regions.

“The new award will allow us to pursue the vision of the Wright Regional CCTS: to advance health equity through translational science that actively engages diverse communities, trains a diverse research workforce and supports the rapid implementation of innovative clinical and translational science within the Wright Regional CCTS and throughout the national program,” said F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., director of the Wright Center and associate vice president of the division of clinical research.

The Wright Center was established in 2007 and was awarded its first CTSA grant of $20 million in 2010. VCU was the first academic health center in Virginia to receive a CTSA, joining a national consortium of more than 50 biomedical research hubs funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Participating institutions work to accelerate the transformation of laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients, engage communities in clinical research and train a new generation of clinical and translational researchers. In 2018, that grant was renewed for $21.5 million.

The Wright Center is part of the VCU Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation. Vice President P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., called the renewal a recognition of VCU’s strength and impact in clinical and translational science research area as well as its focus on reducing health disparities.

“Through this renewal, VCU will continue its efforts with transformative innovation, discoveries, training and ongoing overall impact on improving health disparities, new knowledge creation and patient care across our campuses,” he said. “Its opportunities for collaboration and the valuable training to the next generation of clinician-researchers will have a tremendous, positive impact on our community, the region and beyond.”

In recent years, Wright Center researchers showed that there was an increase in deaths from causes other than COVID-19 during the pandemic that disproportionately affected Black patients; developed innovative technology-driven methods to engage low-income housing residents in virtual community advisory boards; established innovative tools to process and analyze community-based health data to address health inequities; and was selected to join an NIH project to enroll 1 million Americans to understand how biology, lifestyle and environment affect health across a diverse group of individuals.

Wright Center researcher Arun Sanyal, M.D., a liver specialist at VCU Health and now director of the Stravitz-Sanyal Institute for Liver Disease and Metabolic Health, was instrumental in bringing clinical trials to Richmond for the antiviral drug remdesivir, which has become a standard of care for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

“The Wright Center and its aims of moving science forward to improve the health of individuals and communities is an invaluable resource to the School of Medicine, our health system, our region and beyond. We are so very pleased that this award will continue to propel this important work,” said David P. Chelmow, M.D., interim dean at the School of Medicine and chair of its Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, as well as interim executive vice president for medical affairs at VCU Health.

Longtime VCU benefactor C. Kenneth Wright, who died in 2019, was one of the center’s biggest proponents. His $16 million gift in 2015 to name the Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research established six Distinguished Chairs in Clinical and Translational Research and a program to recruit distinguished researchers from around the country and helped VCU prepare the best and brightest students for careers along the spectrum of translational science. In 2018, Wright renewed his support with a $5 million gift to help expand the center’s biomedical informatics program, followed in 2020 by another $16 million gift to support collaborative science and health care research by VCU investigators.

The award comes from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number UM1TR004360.