Q: What are the challenges in vascular research that Vascular Cures has helped to address over the last 30 years?
Although nearly 50 percent of deaths from cardiovascular disease are due to problems outside the heart, research on the unique issues of the vascular system has been under-funded and under-addressed for decades. Vascular diseases include atherosclerosis, peripheral artery disease (PAD), stroke, aneurysms, among others. PAD alone affects 8 million to 12 million people in the United States and approximately 20 percent of people over the age of 70.
Vascular Cures has led the structural change required to develop patient-centered solutions through a three-pronged strategic approach: building a pipeline of patient-based researchers, sharing of unique research assets, andputting the patient at the center.
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding cuts are making it impossible for doctors to also pursue patient-based research. Our Wylie Scholar Program provides grants to early-career surgeon-scientists, enabling them to achieve follow-on funding from the NIH. Since 1996, we've established a group of 17 surgeon-scientists at 15 institutions around the country with a 19:1 return on investment.
- The Vascular Cures Research Network (VCRN) and Biobank is a multi-site consortium creating the first vascular biobank of samples and clinical data from thousands of patients. This long-term research asset will accelerate biological and genomic research through collaborative sharing of results, and a clinical trials network enabling rapid testing of new therapies.
- As a 501(c)(3) with a 30-year track record, a national clinical research network, and the only organization representing millions of patients with vascular disease, Vascular Cures is the perfect catalyst to facilitate collaboration among patients, researchers, and the pharmaceutical industry.
Q: Vascular Cures describes itself as "an entrepreneurial nonprofit." How has the organization been transformative?
Entrepreneurial success requires thinking big, moving fast, and an obsession with actionable results.
We focus on people, not individual research projects. Our Wylie Scholars go on to have a lifetime of impact in terms of research, clinical practice, and mentoring.
We are leap-frogging the fundamental translational gap by creating a long-term engine of discovery through the Vascular Cures Research Network and biobank, the first national repository of vascular samples and data from thousands of patients. This repository will be used by researchers around the world to develop new diagnostic tests and innovative therapies, and to share unique results.
We are the bridge to innovation. As an unbiased nonprofit without proprietary interests, Vascular Cures creates the non-competitive space within which to share unique research assets to improve both patient outcomes and participant value. Recently, this role came to fruition at the first Vascular Innovation Summit.
Q: Vascular Cures recently launched the Vascular Care to Cure Continuum (VC3). Tell us about this new collaborative model.
The goal of VC3 is to stimulate a series of achievable, results-oriented projects between sectors. Key innovation leaders from 17 organizations representing healthcare systems, vascular specialists, industry, payers, investors, and regulators attended the first Vascular Innovation Summit in April 2014.
Participants in the first Vascular Innovation Summit identified three factors that significantly worsen the outcomes of vascular disease:
- education and awareness are limited (both patients and primary physicians),
- low levels of patient engagement are typical in the groups most affected, and
- diagnosis and treatment are often delayed
Vascular patients face many barriers to engagement, and no vascular health community exists. Existing guidelines for treatment do not consider patient input, and outcomes decline very quickly if treatment is not well matched to the individual situation. The reliability of current evidence-based outcomes analysis is weakened by inadequate patient reporting and feedback.
As a result, we are launching Project Voice, the first online patient community and integrated database of patient-centered and clinical outcomes to improve results for both patients and healthcare participants.
Unlike government or large bureaucracies, we're fast and flexible to support the participants who drive VC3 projects like Project Voice, and have already proven that it works through the Vascular Cures Research Network.
Q: What do you consider Vascular Cures' greatest accomplishments over the last decade?
- We achieve results. For 30 years, Vascular Cures has advanced breakthrough research by vascular surgeon-scientists through our Wylie Scholar Program. We've established a group of 17 surgeon-scientists at 15 institutions around the country who are transforming patient care. Our achievements include medical device technology, adult stem cell research to grow new blood vessels, and identifying a gene variation that improves vascular healing by 250 percent.
- We multiply donors' investment. Vascular Cures' initial research investment of $8 million has enabled another $42 million in funding —producing $50 million for research. Our lean organization insures that donor investments are used both efficiently and effectively.
- We have the best team. We have attracted extraordinary world-class experts to our Scientific Advisory Board and our Board of Directors, who provide active leadership in multiple disciplines. Their involvement is a testament to their belief in the immense potential our projects and its urgency.
Q: What are your top research goals over the next year, and what will it take to reach these goals?
Our goals are to (1) complete build-out of the infrastructure for a unique long-term research asset, and (2) complete preliminary research for a fundamental translational project.
Vascular Cures Research Network has launched at three sites — UCSF/ San Francisco VA, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and the University of Florida. Two more are targeted for the first quarter of 2015 - the University of Washington/Puget Sound VA, and the University of Pittsburgh/Pittsburgh VA. In 2015, we expect these will provide sufficient patients to verify the patient recruitment, sample, and data collection processes; test and optimize the laboratory techniques; and generate initial candidate molecules to be confirmed by subsequent studies.
The goal of the first research project of VCRN is to identify biomarkers related to vascular healing after leg arteries blocked by peripheral artery disease are opened through angioplasty, stenting, and bypass. Notwithstanding advances in technology, up to 50 percent of these treatments fail in the first two years. PAD affects more than 10 million Americans, requiring hundreds of thousands of surgeries and 80,000 amputations annually.
The inflammatory response and its resolution are critical to the healing of blood vessels. Recent work has identified critical pathways of resolution, including those governed by bioactive lipids derived from omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. fish oils). We hope to define the mediators that drive a patterned response in patients after surgery or angioplasty, identifying them as candidate biomarkers or treatment targets to improve vascular healing. We expect to have preliminary results by December 2015.