High-Risk, Early-Stage Research Funding Yields New Insights into New Treatments and Diagnostic Approaches for IBD Patients

The Broad Medical Research Program at CCFA expands its scope and support for innovative clinically relevant Crohn's disease & ulcerative colitis research

Jul 29, 2015, 15:26 ET from Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America

NEW YORK, July 29, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) announced today that groundbreaking scientific discoveries about Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis have been identified through its Broad Medical Research Program (BMRP-CCFA), a high-risk/high-return program of pilot research funding. Representing a variety of approaches and fields, grant-awarded investigators from 43 countries are bringing new insights and understanding into potential new treatments and diagnostic approaches for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, collectively known as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).

One such investigator is Dr. Herbert "Skip" Virgin, MD, PhD, the Edward Mallinckrodt Professor and Head of the Department of Pathology and Immunology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. In recent years, his laboratory has received two grants from BMRP-CCFA, resulting in an entirely new concept for how intestinal viruses influence IBD. His findings were published in Cell and Nature, and he received significant continuation funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  "I'm an infectious disease immunologist, but Broad funding has made me an IBD researcher," Dr. Virgin said. "These grants allowed me and my team to test ideas that aren't already out there. I can't overstate the importance of this type of funding not tied to current dogma." 

Dr. Virgin and his laboratory's most recently-funded study, "Viruses as Potential Triggers for Ulcerative Colitis," showed that viruses can impact the levels and diversity of bacteria in the human gut. If better understood, these changes could increase our understanding of IBD onset and progression, and lead to new ways of using bacteriophages to control intestinal bacteria, which is known to influence intestinal inflammation. 

"Our exploration of IBD patients' enteric virome (i.e., the collection of viruses in the human gastrointestinal tract) is entirely new and could not have happened without the high-risk investment made by the BMRP-CCFA," concluded Dr. Virgin.  "Now we have the evidence required to attract funding to test our hypotheses using animal models, and move forward toward establishing proof of the role viruses may be playing in IBD. Our research could lead to effective treatment of IBD by manipulating a patient's virome. While that is several future studies and perhaps years away, Broad funding has allowed us to take the first, crucial step toward a new way of understanding IBD and, someday, bettering the lives of patients."

Established in 2001 by Eli and Edythe Broad through their foundation, The Broad Medical Research Program merged with CCFA in 2014 to become the Broad Medical Research Program at CCFA. Since then, it has expanded its reach and funding while maintaining its innovative strategy of supporting pilot research that enables scientists to test initial ideas and generate the preliminary data required to qualify for larger grants from other organizations, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Because it's based on the belief that great ideas can come from non-traditional sources, the BMRP-CCFA appeals to scientists from outside the IBD research community, such as immunologists, geneticists and those studying the human microbiome. Both basic and clinical investigators, scientists not currently working in IBD, and interdisciplinary teams are encouraged to apply. 

"The BMRP-CCFA is important because it provides funding for potentially breakthrough IBD research that others aren't willing to fund," said Caren Heller, MD, MBA, Chief Scientific Officer of CCFA. "Our approach for this program is different in that we fund early-stage investigation. Innovative ideas need financial support for early testing if they are to ultimately lead to effective treatment, diagnosis and prevention of IBD."

To date, over $47 million has been awarded to scientists and researchers from around the world through the Broad Medical Research Program, support that has, in turn, leveraged more than $150 million in new research funding targeting IBD. The application process for BMRP-CCFA funding is designed to be user-friendly and streamlined, enabling investigators to first present their idea in a simple letter of interest. There are no deadlines, and those invited to submit full applications receive a rapid review and, if approved, funding within three months. Over the past dozen years, the program has awarded one- and two-year grants to almost 400 investigators, half of whom are internationally based.

About CCFA
The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) is the largest voluntary non-profit health organization dedicated to finding cures for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD). CCFA's mission is to cure Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, and to improve the quality of life of children and adults who suffer from these diseases. The Foundation works to fulfill its mission by funding research, providing educational resources for patients and their families, medical professionals, and the public, and furnishing supportive services for those afflicted with IBD.

CCFA has funded a total of more than $250 million in research targeting areas of science with a high probability of advancing treatment.  We are currently funding a roster of over 220 investigator-initiated research projects that are multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary, and collaborative. In the past five years, researchers have made significant inroads in the study of genetics, as well as the gut microbiome. CCFA is dedicated to advancing research for both adults and pediatrics, and this year alone will invest $30 million and fund investigators in the U.S., Canada and over a dozen foreign countries.  For more information, visit www.ccfa.org, call 888-694-8872 or email at info@ccfa.org.


SOURCE Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America