VBHRC deadline approaching; VCU, Virginia Tech collaborate on neuroscience research

Austin Walker
Staff Writer

May 15 is the Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corporation’s final date for applications for their most recent grant, which is aimed at advancing medical research in the interest of saving lives.

The VBHRC, also known as The Catalyst, provides funding to research universities in conjunction with medical research corporations and has helped provide billions of dollars in research grants to participating parties.

“What we’re trying to do is fund translational research through our universities,” said Mike Girsham, the CEO of VBHRC. “It’s a real a process of facilitating and developing stronger relations in the Commonwealth.”

The VBHRC is a nonprofit organization funded by both the Virginia General Assembly and six research universities in Virginia, including Virginia Commonwealth University. All of the universities contribute an equal amount of money.

Universities that contribute funds to the VBHRC must be included in any project to be eligible for funding. In other words, if an interested university outside the six research institutes interested in applying for a grant, they’d have to be collaborating with at least two of the six universities.

This is because the aim of the VBHRC is to increase the importance of Virginia in the United States as a medical capital. By limiting their money to within the Commonwealth the corporation is able to better the available market and technologies.

Applications for funding are evaluated by a Project Management and Oversight Panel, who review the proposals on the basis of feasibility, clinical impact and job creation in Virginia.

In order to assure that the funding is utilized properly, companies must set milestone markers and present their progress on a regular basis to sustain the influx of money.

“They have to present a working prototype,” Grisham said. “Once they can assure they’ve got the right, sound measurement supported by data, then they get funding to go to the next level of moving from a benchmark proof-of-concept to a beta, with the goal of having it work with customers.”

Some of the projects which have been funded by the VBHRC have worked to rebuild the tissue of diabetes patients and enhance research abilities in the neuroscience field.

Collaborations between Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech have focused on those neurosciences in the hopes of making Virginia a center for brain research and development.

“Bringing this model to bear on understanding the brain in health as well as identifying new markers, targets and tools for treating brain disorders is a recipe for making Virginia ‘the Brain State,’” said Michael Friedlander, an Executive Director at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

As of last week, the VBHRC has received twelve applications for funding this year. One of the stipulations for funding is that the participating parties must agree to matching funds. Under this rule, projects have the ability to be funded for over a million dollars in the event of a successful operation.

“Universities value the funding, and it’s a real incentive for them to collaborate and accelerate their translational medicine and approaches,” Grisham said.

Virginia Commonwealth University has collaborated with Phizer and other universities, with funding from the VBHRC, on research towards treatment and recognition of cancer.

The intention of the company is to increase collaboration between institutes and make possible the research that would otherwise not take place. With this comes the challenges, as minor disputes can arise over various aspects of the operation.

“We invite people to submit an application through a letter of interest,” Grisham said.

Institutions who are interested in working with the VBHRC have to submit a letter of interest to the company. Some of their guidelines include a 6x matching funds multiplier for large organizations, the grants must fall between $200,000 and $800,000, and the research must be aimed at a clearly unmet topic in the marketplace.

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