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Dome - Helping Biomedical Discovery Flourish

Dome November 2013

Helping Biomedical Discovery Flourish

By: Paul B. Rothman, Dean of the Medical Faculty, CEO, Johns Hopkins Medicine
Date: October 29, 2013

Paul B. Rothman

In September, I used this platform to share more about how we’re implementing the “people” portion of our five-year strategic plan. In this issue, I want to continue unpacking the plan for you by describing our enhanced approach to biomedical discovery.

When we began refining our research enterprise, an age-old question kept popping up: If it’s not broken, why fix it? Indeed, in the fields of clinical medicine, pharmacy and life sciences, Johns Hopkins staff and alumni are among the most-cited scientists in the world. It’s important to note that the business plan should not interfere with your daily work in the clinic or lab. On the contrary, we hope it will make your research even more efficient and influential.

One way we intend to do that is by enhancing core services. Think of how much information is collected on this campus every day through clinical trials, laboratory research, electronic medical records and other means. Technology now allows us to harvest unprecedented amounts of data, all of which are ripe for analysis. There’s just one problem confronting researchers nationwide: Our capacity to interpret these reams of info has not yet caught up. Here at JHM, our approach has been scattershot, with tools in various computer labs dotting the campus and little sharing of datasets. Looking ahead, we plan to consolidate data-analysis services for all investigators in a few locations, beginning with a multidepartmental Johns Hopkins Center for Computational Biology and Medicine. And because tools are useless without techniques, we’ll devote more faculty and training programs to advancing the science of informatics.

Funding is another thorny issue in biomedical research. Our scientists get more National Institutes of Health (NIH) backing than those at almost any other institution, but with federal budgets tightening, we need to broaden our sources of financial support to ensure stability and enduring innovation. So we plan to create a new Advancing the Frontiers of Discovery Fund, which will draw from industry, the university and philanthropy while asking for commitment of a certain percentage of JHM revenues each year. These dollars will be distributed by a research council—including expert advisers from outside—to support bold new initiatives, pilot programs and mini-sabbaticals, and bridge funding for ongoing studies. Among other benefits, this fund will help guarantee there is ample backing for basic science, which can take decades to bear fruit, but which drives the progress of medicine.

I’ve spotlighted just two biomedical discovery initiatives here, but I encourage you to peruse the plan to see other smart strategies devised by Landon King and Dan Ford, our vice deans for research, with input from many of you:

Here at Hopkins, research is sacrosanct. But let’s be sure to step back from the lab bench on occasion and dissect the how. Innovation isn’t just limited to desktop discovery—we have to consider our processes and continually devise new ways to be more effective if we want to remain a world leader in biomedical research. We can patent our scientific discoveries, but my not-so-secret hope is that your collective brainpower will summon process innovations that get copied around the country.

Paul B. Rothman

Dean of the Medical Faculty

CEO, Johns Hopkins Medicine