Former Intel Corp. chief executive Andy Grove has pledged $1.5 million to two University of California campuses – San Francisco and Berkeley – to jointly launch the first program of its kind aimed at accelerating the translation of cutting-edge research into advances in patient care.
The commitment, which the two campuses will share equally, will enable UCSF and UC Berkeley to create a combined program in translational medicine at the master’s level. The program aims to address the critical need for expediting new therapies to treat devastating diseases such as cancer, neurological disorders and diabetes.
“The significance of this gift is that it reflects Andy’s powerful vision of infusing the spirit of Silicon Valley innovation into the advancement of patient therapies and care,” said UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, M.D., M.P.H.
The two-year program was the brainchild of Grove, who believes that the model which has fueled innovation in technology can do the same in health care.
”What we have learned from decades of rapid development of information technology is that the key is relentless focus on ‘better, faster, cheaper’ – in everything,” Grove said. “The best results are achieved through the cooperative efforts of different disciplines, all aimed at the same objective.”
Despite the nearly $30 billion annual investment in federal research funding through the National Institutes of Health, there has been increasing concern that these investments have not resulted in the expected cures for life-threatening diseases. In fact, while inflation-adjusted federal research spending doubled from 1995 to 2005, new drug approvals were flat, said S. Claiborne “Clay” Johnston, M.D., Ph.D., associate vice chancellor of research at UCSF and the director of the UCSF Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which helped launch the program and will assist in its oversight.
“We see this program filling an important gap,” Johnston said. “Clinicians generally don’t have the skills to be good inventors, and engineers often don’t understand the clinical problems. Our program is trying to provide pivotal training to both groups.”
The program’s placement in the San Francisco Bay Area, amidst the innovation of both the nation’s largest biotechnology hub and Silicon Valley, also will enable students to learn from the collaborations and synergies that propelled both the high-tech and biotech industries, Johnston said.
Matthew Tirrell, Ph.D., chair of the UC Berkeley bioengineering department, who will co-direct the new program along with UCSF bioengineering professor Tejal Desai, Ph.D., said the two campuses had been discussing the possibility of such a program to tackle this growing area of concern before Grove outlined his idea during a November 2009 conference at UCSF. That, Tirrell said, gave both UC campuses the inspiration, focus and now funding, to bring this to fruition.
“Engineers are, by nature, interested in translational – or applied – research, whether that’s in developing a safer airplane or using nano-technology to improve health,” Tirrell said. “The close ties between UC Berkeley and UCSF in bioengineering and research, as well as our history of cooperation, make this the ideal environment for using that engineering expertise to apply that approach to medicine.”
Engineers and bioengineers already are involved in many aspects of healthcare, from developing new ways to deliver therapeutics, to designing medical devices, equipment and consumer-related healthcare products that can improve patients’ self-reliance.
The program will begin this fall with roughly a dozen students and initially will be offered through the existing master’s program in the UCSF-UC Berkeley Joint Graduate Group in Bioengineering, which is a cooperative venture between the UC Berkeley Department of Bioengineering and the UCSF Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences.
It will be patterned on a model of a master’s of business administration, teaching the critical-thinking skills needed to maneuver through the many obstacles along the route from laboratory bench to patient bedside, and will draw a student body from a diverse array of backgrounds, including engineering, bioengineering, business, medicine, basic research and industry. The program will complement those backgrounds, while giving students hands-on experience in multidisciplinary projects to tackle a specific obstacle in the field.
The program is unique in both offering a professional degree and in integrating the perspectives of a broad field of backgrounds, Johnston said. As this grows to an expected 50 students per year over the next six years, the graduate group intends to request approval from the UC Office of the President to make it an independent master’s degree program, rather than a subset of bioengineering.