A person wearing headphones and a band around their head sits in a chair. Computer screens display images of brain scans.
VCU was awarded a $50 million federal grant in late 2019 to oversee a national research consortium studying the long-term impacts of mild traumatic brain injuries or concussions on service members and veterans. (Julia Rendleman, University Marketing)

Sponsored research at VCU hits new all-time high of $335M

Funding rose 8% over the previous year, and has grown by a third over the past decade.

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Virginia Commonwealth University’s research continues to grow, posting an institutional record of $335 million in sponsored funding in fiscal year 2020, an 8% increase over the previous year.

“VCU’s ongoing commitment to its faculty, interdisciplinary research and investment in research infrastructure have translated into these record levels — which have grown by a third — over the past decade,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “I applaud our community of scholars, whose groundbreaking research has a tremendous positive impact on the human experience.”

Funding grew on both the MCV and Monroe Park campuses, solidifying VCU’s reputation as a major urban, public research university whose work benefits its community locally, nationally and globally. VCU's research portfolio represents diversified funding from federal, state, industry and other private funding agencies and reflects the growing breadth, depth and competitiveness of its research enterprise, said P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., the university’s vice president for research and innovation.

VCU received $169 million in total extramural federal funding, a 6% gain from FY 2019. This includes nearly $92 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health. The funds from the National Science Foundation and the Departments of Education, Justice and Defense registered increases. The overall federal portfolio consisted of 54% NIH funds and 46% non-NIH funds.

Industry contributed to more than $37 million in sponsored research funding, a 26% increase from FY 2019, some of which resulted from the university’s rapid ability to begin clinical trials of potential therapeutics, such as remdesivir, for COVID-19 patients. More than $9 million of the industry funding supported VCU’s research into muscular dystrophy.

Bar graph depicting the total number of awards from 2010-2020.
Sponsored research at VCU has grown from $255 million a year a decade ago to $335 million in 2020. (University Marketing)

“Fiscal year 2020 translated into an outstanding year of accomplishments for VCU’s research community and our faculty and researchers are to be congratulated and recognized for their efforts,” said Vice President Rao. “Despite the many disruptions caused by the pandemic, they pressed forward with their research focused on VCU’s strategic initiatives of enriching our lives, achieving a just and equitable society, optimizing health and supporting sustainable energy and environments.”

VCU has been ranked as a top 100 research university based on research expenditures for nine consecutive years by the National Science Foundation and is 65th in research and development expenditures among public research universities. The Carnegie Foundation classifies VCU as an “R1 Doctoral University – Highest Research Activity,” the foundation’s highest ranking. The university also received “Community Engagement” status. This recognition places VCU among an elite class of public research institutions that enjoy both distinctions.VCU remains one of only 25 public institutions to have both a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center and a clinical and translational science award funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

A chart depicting the breakdown of awards by schools and colleges at V C U.
More than 12 schools and colleges around VCU received funding for sponsored research in the last fiscal year. (University Marketing)

Other examples of new and ongoing sponsored research from FY 2020:

  •  A $50 million grant for VCU to oversee a multi-institution study of concussions among service members and veterans
  •  Two research awards totaling $8.8 million to coordinate a dozen studies across four universities that will focus on how to best provide training and employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities
  • Multiple grants expanded Massey Cancer Center’s research on finding causes and cures for various cancers, including pancreatic and triple negative breast cancer, two cancers that grow quickly, have limited treatment options and poor outcomes
  • A $2.5 million grant from the Department of Energy leading to development of next-generation rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which power everything from smartphones to electric vehicles
  • $2.5 million in royalty and licensing income from faculty inventions licensed to companies, with some of the funds used to support "proof of concept" funding to mature and validate new innovative technologies
  • A $7.8 million NIH grant renewal to VCU’s Alcohol Research Center is deepening the understanding of the genetic components of alcohol related disorders
  • Nearly $11 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to participate in the largest long-term study of brain development and child health ever conducted in the U.S.
  • Grants totaling $2.28 million from the National Institute of Justice help investigators in the Department of Forensic Science to develop and evaluate new forensic tools
  • A grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to support the Rice Rivers Center oyster restoration program, a public-private effort that takes shells from consumers and restaurants, seeds them with baby oysters and returns the shells to the Chesapeake Bay

The record funding announcement comes just ahead of an update on the VCU Strategic Research Priorities Plan.

“In the coming weeks, we will share details about the proposal, developed by more than 90 faculty members, to implement our bold and ambitious plan,” Vice President Rao said. “This will serve as a framework to streamline investments leading to increased funding and growth, ultimately advancing excellence in research at VCU.”