NIH Awards High-Risk, High-Reward Research Grant to NCCU

Posted October 05, 2021, 11:11AM
(L-R) Dr. Kevin Williams, Dr. Sean Kimbro and Dr. Hernán Navarro

North Carolina Central University (NCCU) is the recipient of a 2021 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to support highly innovative and broadly impactful biomedical or behavioral research through the Common Fund’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program. The university’s five-year grant of $3.4 million was one of 106 awards totaling approximately $329 million awarded by NIH, and one of only 19 NIH Director’s Transformative Research Awards.

The NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award, established in 2009, promotes cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approaches and is open to individuals and teams of investigators who propose research that could potentially create or challenge existing paradigms. NCCU’s research initiative focuses on establishing new paradigms to address the functional consequences of health disparities in drug development. The project is led by principal investigators Sean Kimbro, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biomedical and Biological Sciences, adjunct professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical Biotechnology Research Institute, Kevin Williams, Ph.D., Merck Distinguished Professor in Integrated Biosciences in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Hernán Navarro, Ph.D., director of the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise.

“The science put forward by this cohort is exceptionally novel and creative and is sure to push at the boundaries of what is known,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “These visionary investigators come from a wide breadth of career stages and show that groundbreaking science can happen at any career level given the right opportunity.”

The project from NCCU has three potential deliverables: 1) establish ancestry-related host immunity as a contributing biological parameter of complex disease disparities; 2) fill in critical knowledge gaps by identifying novel players and mechanisms of inflammation and their role in complex disease; and 3) possibly lead to the development of effective therapies to address health disparities. The work will utilize NCCU’s two, state-of-the-art research institutes, the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical Biotechnology Research Institute (BBRI) and Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE).

“The National Institutes of Health’s new award investment further underscores the quality of the transformational research currently underway at NCCU and for that, we are excited,” said Johnson O. Akinleye, Ph.D., chancellor of NCCU. “As the first Historically Black College or University (HBCU) to receive the NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award, this prestigious NIH Research Project Grant, or R01, will allow our institution to leverage the concentrations of BBRI, which focuses on health disparities from a biological and population perspective, and BRITE, that centers on drug development and manufacturing, to advance solutions in health disparities and drug discovery.”

“This unique research seeks to leverage African ancestry in the workflow of drug development. NCCU is well-positioned to explore the complexities of health disparities research given the unique cultural expertise concentrated at a HBCU,” said Kimbro.

“It was noted by the reviewers that a strength of the proposal is the research environment at BRITE and NCCU that provides a high throughput screening infrastructure to allow the rapid advancement of drugs that target functional African variants of interest,” said Williams.

“This award demonstrates NCCU’s research environment fosters strong and innovative collaborative research across Institutes and complementary fields of research,” said Navarro.

This work is supported by grant #R01MD017405, funded by the NIH Common Fund.

The NIH news release is available here.

View a video with Dr. Kimbro and Dr. Williams discussing the award: https://youtu.be/fD6zocgnnBw.

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