A Year for the History Books: Research Reflections on 2020
In the spring of 2020, Research Operations at the Brigham made the unprecedented decision to temporarily shut down onsite research at the hospital. But the research community at the Brigham has emerged from 2020 stronger than ever.
Paul Anderson, MD, PhD, senior vice president of research and education and chief academic officer, described the Brigham research community’s response to the pandemic in his annual “Year in Review” presentation at Research Connection Live, a monthly virtual meeting for the research community.
“Our researchers responded to the 10-week shutdown in a remarkable way,” said Anderson. “In 2020, many investigators changed their focus to understanding the pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19. In 2021, we’ll jump into new challenges and make this a year of recovery and rejuvenation. I’m looking forward to it and I’m sure all of you are too.”
A Recipe for Success
When the pandemic struck, researchers across the Mass General Brigham system began work to address it from multiple angles. In 2020, they launched 34 clinical trials of vaccines and therapeutics and enrolled 477 patients. Brigham investigators also participated in the Mass General Brigham Center for COVID Innovation, an ongoing collaboration to develop solutions for the most pressing COVID-19 issues affecting patients, frontline health care workers and the community.
At the Brigham, investigators have been selected for 104 new COVID-19 related grants providing almost $27 million in total funding, with federal awards accounting for 63 percent of the total. Anderson expects that number to grow.
“The Brigham is fortunate,” said Anderson. “We have a research community that is able to step up to the plate and investigators who write great grants that are funded at very high rates.”
Anderson also noted that the Brigham has programs established to help investigators submit applications for these awards. Brigham investigators had a 21.3 percent success rate for National Institutes of Health R (Research) grants and a 37.2 percent success rate for K (Career Development) awards — both above the national averages.
One area of growth the Brigham will pursue in the year ahead is building up a clinical trial infrastructure so that it can serve as a primary site for major research grants. While the Brigham played a leadership role in many clinical trials, including the phase 3 trial of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate, it could not serve as a primary coordinating site for multi-site trials because it lacked a data coordination center. Anderson described the work of the Brigham’s Center for Clinical Investigation to build this capacity and make the Brigham more competitive.
Anderson described the diversification of commercial revenue for Brigham research, including licenses, royalties, and innovation funding from MGB to launch new companies based on research discoveries.
He highlighted three recent Brigham spin-offs, including:
- Tilos Therapeutics launched by Howard Weiner, MD, co-director of the Center for Neurologic Diseases
- Keros Therapeutics launched by Paul Yu, MD, PhD, of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine
- Frequency Therapeutics launched by Jeff Karp, PhD, of the Division of Engineering in Medicine
The Brigham has received revenue through licenses and/or portions of Partners Innovation Fund ownership for each.
“In the last five years, commercial revenue has almost doubled,” Anderson said. “If we project forward, we think this will continue to increase. We hope to apply some of this revenue to growing our commercialization activities at the Brigham.”
One example of a program intended to accomplish this goal is the Ignite Brigham Innovation Initiative, which will combine early-stage technology development activities from across several areas into a single, streamlined program. It will offer dedicated licensing and intellectual property resources to broaden the sources of Brigham innovation, offer educational opportunities to help faculty develop commercial and translational expertise, and more.
“One thing I’ve heard repeatedly this year from the research community: We’re eager to get back to work,” said Anderson. “We’ve learned a lot and are ready for the challenges of the year ahead.”