Partnerships in Research, Providing Hope
Partnership. Collaboration. Synergy. These were recurring themes in nearly every discussion during the 2018 Military Health System Research Symposium in Kissimmee, Florida, August 20-23. The afternoon breakout session on "Funding Opportunities" provided a clear overview of how these themes come together to provide medical research solutions.
Col. Stephen Dalal, director of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, explained how CDMRP's success can be attributed to its unique partnerships. Different organizations have different missions, but the way they come together to incorporate their unique skillsets is what lends a synergy to the process. It's less about how they work than how they work together.
"The Office of Research Protections, Regulatory, Contracting [the U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity] – without all of us working together as one team, we [CDMRP] couldn't possibly be successful in managing these awards," said Dalal.
Dalal went on to explain the unique two-tier review process that sets CDMRP apart from other funding organizations. Through this process, consumers and researchers partner together, to review the numerous research applications annually. In this scenario, the CDMRP "consumer" is a patient, survivor, family member, and/or advocate of the particular disease, illness or cancer, being studied.
Dalal recounted his first peer review experience, which occurred just weeks ago, involving the CDMRP's Breast Cancer Research Program. There, he witnessed firsthand how consumers count their votes alongside the scientists. He shared how one consumer was undergoing treatment, yet was at the peer review because she wanted more time. The power of research to help provide solutions, allowing more time to patients, offers hope.
Dalal addressed the crowd, and asked to see exactly how many researchers were present in the audience. Nearly every hand extended into the air.
"I personally want to extend to all of you my gratitude," he said. "You represent hope – you represent our present and our future. Without you being here and being involved in this program, the CDMRP wouldn't exist. The people I saw during the peer review process, those consumers, their hope is in you."
Dr. Rebecca Fisher, program lead for the CDMRP, discussed the program cycle and funding process. Following the initial congressional appropriations, vision setting is the start of the program cycle.
"At vision setting the programmatic panel (made up of both consumers and scientists) sits down and they look at the congressional language, and the current research landscape and how it might have changed recently, and any new emerging technologies, to develop the goals of the program for that year."
"This is really an example of why it's a good thing that our programs have yearly appropriations, as it allows us to be very flexible, we can turn on a dime and focus on specific new research gaps that might be emerging," said Fisher.
The CDMRP funds everything from early concepts and ideas through clinical trials, always maintaining focus on research that will accelerate progress to get products out to the Warfighter, veterans, and the public.
Dr. Alison Milutinovich, program manager for the CDMRP, walked everyone through how-to submit a successful application. Looking at an example of a program announcement and breaking down all of the language and requirements, Milutinovich provided all of the tips to take an idea into a successfully funded project.
"We want you to succeed in this, and without you, we can't succeed in what we are doing, so we wish you the best of luck with your submissions," said Milutinovich.
The final presenter for the session was Dr. Akua Roach, program manager for the CDMRP, who discussed what makes the collaboration with the DOD unique.
"Within the DOD, the goal is to find high-quality research that accelerates the generation of new knowledge and materiel products that can prevent, diagnose, treat injury or illness and restore and sustain our Warfighters," said Roach. "So when you receive an award from us, we are expecting your research to contribute to the development or down selection of knowledge or materiel products that can make a real impact."
"We are not interested in funding research for research sake. The DOD is interested in funding requirements-driven research."
Along with the CDMRP presentations, representatives from the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs were on hand to discuss other Department of Defense and Army funding opportunities.
The session ended with representatives from the CDMRP, USAMRAA, ORP, and SBIR/STTR, who helped to provide direct support for questions from those in attendance. Audience members were afforded the opportunity to speak with CDMRP staff members for answers to their specific questions. Partnerships were made, and this collaboration of efforts is exactly how medical research will turn into medical solutions.
Collaboration toward a common goal of saving lives – this is what the MHSRS, and CDMRP, are all about.