Research and federal grant support has not always been available for sickle cell disease (SCD) as it has for other genetic diseases. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) provided research grants for SCD through its Innovations in Clinical Research Awards (ICRA) program that led to big returns, proving that even small grants can produce substantial returns, according to research in Blood Advances.
Worldwide, about 300,000 babies are born with SCD every year. In the United States, investments in SCD research were limited. The DDCF decided to provide a research funding opportunity to address these shortcomings.
The program offered grants of $450,000 for direct costs over 3 years, and the program allowed renewals and no-cost extensions. The program specifically encouraged early-career investigators and those new to the field of SCD to apply.
The published study evaluated the program from 2009 to 2013 to determine its successfulness in improving understanding and treatment development from the grants.
The program awarded 28 new grants, with 7 renewals at a total investment of $17 million. A total of 87 original reports noted DDCF as a funding source from 25 investigative teams. Many investigative teams receiving DDCF grants also went on to receive grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or other foundations.
The research also led to 7 patent applications. The grant-funded research also led to lasting contributions to the understanding and treatment of SCD. These advances focused on gene therapy, novel therapies, hydroxyurea in sub-Saharan Africa, and genomic approaches to transfusion therapy.
A goal of the program was to encourage researchers to branch out into SCD research. Nearly 50% of the projects funded were directed by researchers who did not specialize in SCD and nearly 80% of researchers still dedicate some time to SCD research.
The study authors found a financial return on investment of 303%. However, results are limited by the fact that 56% of principal investigators funded through the DDCF program responded to the survey.
The authors concluded that relatively small research grants can affect research, return on investment, and advances in a particular disease study.
Escobar Alvarez SN, Myers ER. Impact of a grant program to spur advances in sickle cell disease research. Blood Adv. 2021;5(19):3855-3861. doi:10.1182/bloodadvances.2021005709