IU announces first round of funding for $300 million Grand Challenges Program

IU President McRobbie says Precision Health Initiative could transform health in Indiana and beyond

  • June 20, 2016


INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana University has announced that the Precision Health Initiative, a research initiative focused on patient-centered precision medicine therapies, is the first recipient of funding under the university’s new $300 million Grand Challenges Program.

Led by faculty at the IU School of Medicine, IU Bloomington and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the Precision Health Initiative will develop IU's expertise in individualized precision medicine. Precision Health Initiative team members will work closely with several prominent business and community partners, including Eli Lilly and Co., Roche Diagnostics, Cook Regentec, Deloitte, Regenstrief Institute and IU Health. The primary goals will be to transform health care for the people of Indiana and medical research and education at IU.

Precision medicine is aimed at understanding and optimizing the prevention, treatment, progression and health outcomes of human diseases through a more precise understanding of the genetic, developmental, behavioral and environmental factors that contribute to an individual’s health.

IU President Michael A. McRobbie said the Precision Health Initiative is a visionary proposal that fully realizes the vision of IU’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan to improve the education, health, economy and quality of life of the people of Indiana. Led by IU Associate Vice President for Clinical Affairs and IU School of Medicine Executive Associate Dean for Research Affairs Anantha Shekhar, the Precision Health Initiative will seek to cure at least one cancer and one childhood disease, as well as find ways to prevent one chronic illness and one neurodegenerative disease.

“Through team-based, interdisciplinary collaboration, this initiative represents an effort to overcome one of the greatest challenges facing Indiana and society: developing a comprehensive approach to individualized health care at every stage, from prevention to final outcomes," McRobbie said. “This initiative will put IU’s extensive breadth and leadership of large-scale research, discovery and innovation to work for the people of our state."

IU Vice President for Research Fred H. Cate noted that the inaugural initiative exemplifies how public universities can move away from all-too-common research silos and toward interdisciplinary collaborations that involve not only faculty from many disciplines but also diverse teams of practitioners, policymakers and community leaders working together to tackle vexing issues.

“Grand Challenges is a bold initiative to focus research on critical needs facing the people of Indiana, to measure the value of research by its impact and to work in close partnership with industry, government and community organizations,” Cate said. “The Precision Health Initiative promises to do all of this, transform health care and the quality of health of all Hoosiers.”

The initiative will incorporate five research clusters across the university. Those clusters will focus on genomic medicine; cell, gene and immune therapy; chemical biology and biotherapeutics; data and informatics sciences; and psychosocial, behavioral and ethics, according to Shekhar.

“Precision health and person-centered approaches to patient care will be the next paradigm shift for health care delivery, and likely the dominant new forces in training the next generation of graduates from health sciences schools,” Shekhar said. “The goal of precision medicine is to get the right prevention or treatment to the right patient at the right time, and this initiative will enable us to do that for Hoosiers across the state.”

The initiative spans the full range of health promotion and disease prevention, as well as individualized treatment and recovery strategies.

The Precision Health Initiative will receive as much as $40 million in funding provided by the Grand Challenges Program and leverage up to an additional $80 million from the IU School of Medicine. The team expects to hire about 40 new, full-time faculty members, including at least 22 at the IU School of Medicine, 15 at IU Bloomington and two at IUPUI. The program will also support the creation of new facilities, centers and user platforms, including new gene editing and sequencing cores at the IU School of Medicine, and a good manufacturing practice facility to produce cellular therapeutics. Also to be supported at the School of Medicine will be a cross-campus Center for Chemical Biology and Biotherapeutics, a Precision Health Data Commons and a Precision Health Integration and Analytics Platform.

The Precision Health Initiative was chosen at the end of a yearlong process. The first round of the Grand Challenges Program began with 21 preliminary proposals that involved over 400 faculty members from 29 schools at six IU campuses.

By design, each Grand Challenge initiative is an investment in research that will substantially and tangibly impact local communities, the state, the nation and the world. Grand Challenges initiatives will draw strategically on IU’s strengths and resources and involve partnerships with industry, government and community organizations to create a tangible and lasting positive impact on both the state and the university. It is expected to support the hiring of as many as 175 new faculty and hundreds of new graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Most importantly, it will enable IU to expand its efforts to address some of the most critical issues facing Indiana and the world.

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Michael A. McRobbie

Michael A. McRobbie | Photo by Indiana University

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Fred H. Cate

Fred H. Cate | Photo by Indiana University

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Anantha Shekhar

Anantha Shekhar | Photo by Indiana University

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Media Contacts

Mark Land

Associate vice president, IU Communications

Stephen Chaplin

Manager of Research Communications