Arlene Chiu, Ph.D., knows what makes funding agencies tick — and ultimately, what pushes them to finance research projects.
As head of City of Hope’s newly established Office of New Research Initiatives, Chiu is using her knowledge as a former government funding agency insider to help campus stem cell researchers succeed in their quests for grant funding.
Chiu’s office aims to identify funding opportunities and help research faculty strategize and target their applications to increase their chances for success.
|Arlene Chiu (Photo Courtesy National Institutes of Health)|
Funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have specific goals mandated by legislators and policy makers, she said. “When we apply for funding, we need to be certain to define how the goals of our research project will help the agency meet its mission and goals,” she explained.
Chiu currently is examining the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Obama’s economic stimulus package, to find grant opportunities for City of Hope investigators.
The stimulus package includes more than $10 billion in NIH funding, which the NIH must commit to research projects within the next two years. Chiu is working closely with City of Hope leadership and the Office of Research Operations to identify how best to tap into funding from the stimulus package.
“We need to act quickly, but we need to be smart about our approach,” she said. “For example, if a particular agency favors Alzheimer’s disease, we’ll focus our proposals on that topic.”
A former research scientist, Chiu first joined City of Hope in 1986 as the first female faculty member in the Division of Neurosciences. After 12 years, she left to direct the Spinal Cord Injury Program at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, or NINDS, one of 27 institutes that make up the NIH.
As the NIH began to recognize the therapeutic potential of stem cells in the late 1990s, Chiu established the NINDS’ Stem Cell Research Program and directed the program for five years. She also became one of the first members of the NIH-wide Stem Cell Task Force. In 2004, she moved to a new NIH institute — the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering — where she gained further insight into how the NIH makes decisions on funding grant proposals.
Her somewhat unorthodox and varied experience gained the notice of Zach Hall, Ph.D.,
then president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM. Hall recruited Chiu as director of scientific activities for CIRM, where Chiu’s experience proved invaluable to establishing practices for funding stem cell research.
Chiu left CIRM in late 2007. Shortly after, she joined City of Hope to lead the Office of New Research Initiatives, where she uses her experience in large part to help develop City of Hope’s stem cell research programs.
“Our goal is to assess the institution’s current capabilities and build on them,” Chiu said.
Chiu believes City of Hope is ideally positioned for moving stem cell research into the clinic. In particular, she said, the institution has the translational research expertise, infrastructure and experience to keep projects moving through what CIRM and other agencies call the “valley of death.”
Potential therapies reach the so-called valley of death when they must transition through preclinical research and development to obtain Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and move into clinical studies. It is a costly, time-consuming and labor-intensive process that startlingly few potential new therapies survive and few academic institutions are equipped to take on.
“The valley of death is the most challenging part of the process for academic institutions, but City of Hope is very good at this,” said Chiu. City of Hope could partner with researchers who need this valuable expertise to move their potential therapies into clinical studies, she added.
Chiu sees an even greater opportunity in City of Hope’s biomanufacturing facility, which recently received an $880,000 award from CIRM to improve its stem cell manufacturing capabilities.
“Currently there is no academic facility in the United States capable of manufacturing human embryonic stem cells to FDA standards,” she said. “We could become that for California, and for the nation.”