Scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation have garnered an unprecedented $12.1 million in National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants in 1999, Foundation officials announced today. In a typical year, OMRF receives $7.7 to $8.0 million in competitive grants from NIH. This year, however, the figure shot up by more than 50 percent.
While the dollar figures themselves are impressive, the remarkable fact is that this increase has occurred without an increase in the number of scientists at OMRF.
“We have had a small scientific staff of 36 members for over a decade,” said OMRF President J. Donald Capra. “An increase of this magnitude speaks directly to the excellence of their research. Competitive, peer-reviewed grant funding is the ‘yardstick’ by which scientific institutions measure success, and from these numbers, it is clear to see that our scientists truly are among the best.”
OMRF scientists have a long history of success in obtaining competitive research grant funding from NIH, as well as other granting agencies across the country. In fact, OMRF receives nearly one-third of all NIH funding granted in the state of Oklahoma. But competition is fierce and comes from some of the “heaviest hitters” in the research arena, such as Scripps, Stanford, Harvard and Yale. Some years are better than others, but 1999’s increase is a milestone for the Foundation’s researchers.
“One other exciting point is that some of our newest scientists have been incredibly successful in securing grants,” Capra continued. “Dr. Judith James, who has been on our staff as an Assistant Member for only 18 months, has been awarded four NIH grants. This is simply outstanding. Dr. Kevin Moore has made a major discovery related to blood clotting and has received an NIH grant to continue this work.”
“Analysis of the grants suggests that this ‘new plateau’ will be sustained in the future,” Capra continued. “With the exception of the $1.0 million construction grant, the vast majority of the funding spans a five-year period.” Capra suggested that next year the number would be slightly higher.
“Several of our senior investigators were awarded large multi-year grants, while some new recruits obtained their first grants, which are generally three to five years in duration. Since the number of investigators is expected to increase, and we anticipate no attrition, next year should yield an even more impressive figure.”
Major grants will focus on several areas of study, including:
the genetics of lupus
the role of the immune system in aging
the development of a vaccine for AIDS
Of Oklahoma’s surrounding states, only Arkansas receives less per capita NIH funding than Oklahoma. Since last year, Arkansas has narrowed the gap, but based on the national average of $47, Capra says Oklahoma is “leaving over $100 million dollars on the table.”
“We need to find a way to jumpstart our biomedical economy in Oklahoma,” said Capra. “The good news is that with the NIH budget increasing by 14.3 percent last year, Oklahoma’s share increased by 16.7 percent, but at this rate of ‘improvement,’ we will not catch up to the national average until the year 2068!”
Last year, Oklahoma’s NIH grant funding totaled $35.5 million. This year’s increase to $42.2 million, approximately 80 percent of the state’s increase can be attributed to OMRF’s $4.4 million leap.
Capra also said that the Foundation’s capital and endowment campaign, which was made public on November 10, should help to increase the numbers, but not for several years. “If we had 50 percent more scientists, we would conceivably have 50 percent more NIH dollars,” said Capra. “Were that true today, Oklahoma would bring in an additional $6 million, catapulting us from 40th in per capita ranking to 36th—a significant jump! If other biomedical institutions in the state could undergo similar expansion, Oklahoma would truly be able to compete for these federal dollars.”
According to an economic impact study conducted by OMRF, every dollar received from sources outside Oklahoma has an impact of more than 2 to 1 on the state’s economy. Each of OMRF’s grants creates jobs for faculty, laboratory technicians and other support staff.
Grants also tend to attract other grants—somewhat of a “spillover” effect. The technology resulting from this research has led to several patents and licenses and even the formation of a start-up biotechnology company.
The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation is considered one of the top research institutes in the U.S. Its 36 scientists focus on cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune diseases, AIDS, children’s diseases and genetics. Apart from the competitive, peer-reviewed grants scientists receive from NIH, agencies such as the American Heart Association, and competitive funding from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), the Foundation depends upon the donations of private individuals, corporations and foundations in Oklahoma and across the country.