Baby Light My Fire: Doris Duke's Big Give to Pump up Independent Clinical Research

There are a million metaphors I could use to tell you about the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s new $8 million in grants designed to boost the clinical research pipeline: They’re greasing the skids. They’re giving it a shot in the arm. They’re lighting a fire under its ass.

The clinical research pipeline—the process by which clinical research becomes lab trials that lead to cures—is notoriously time-consuming and money-hungry, and the DDCF wants to make it leaner, meaner, and generally more efficient. It also wants to boost the number of young scientists who choose the course of independent research.

Young clinical investigators are an impressionable lot. On one hand, they’re magnificently talented researchers with their whole career ahead of them. On the other hand, they want to be making money—and who can blame them for that?—and if they don’t see support for a career as an independent investigator, then they’re likely to look elsewhere for a position. To industry, for example, where their research will be heavily influenced by their parent company’s fiscal motivations, or to the risk-averse governmental sector, where research moves slower than molasses in January.

So the DDCF is offering a Clinical Scientist Development Award, specifically geared towards helping young scientists transition into independent research careers. This year, seventeen development awards totaling $7.5 million will be handed out to researchers studying a wide range of diseases and disorders, from cancer to Crohn’s to pediatric movement disorders. The awards span three years, offering up $486,000 total. Smaller, but also significant, the DDCF’s Clinical Research Mentorship program pairs med students with DDCF-funded clinical scientists for a year of collaboration. The med students take a year off from school, and together each team receives $64,800 to fund their research.

These two new awards seem to be completely in keeping with the DDCF’s past history of disease-related grantmaking. Though it doesn’t have a devoted Disease Program, DDCF does give around $20 million annually, and often, it’s given to support mentoring relationships with med students or even high school students, or to simply super-charge the development of new innovations in the research realm. Big-time innovations are more likely to happen when researchers choose the independent path, they reason, and this award is there to make the magic happen.