Your Role in Building a Roadmap for the Future

Guest Blog by Dr. Joni L. Rutter, PhD. NCATS Director

This is my second guest appearance on Mike’s Blog, but my first time writing as the permanent director of NCATS. While my title is new, I am not new to NCATS or to this incredible community.

I joined NCATS in 2019 as deputy director, and I subsequently stepped in to serve as NCATS acting director, a role I held for the past year and a half. At the Fall 2022 CTSA Program Annual Meeting, I talked about my vision for NCATS and three audacious goals for the decade ahead. Now, in my capacity as NCATS director, I am committed to working with you to make this vision a reality.

The CTSA Program is a critical part of NCATS mission and, as we saw during the pandemic, a critical part of our nation’s ability to speed research and development of life-saving diagnostics and therapies. The unique strengths and longstanding leadership within the local CTSA communities have enabled us to rapidly advance our collective research capabilities and implement a robust national response.

I look to you and our broader community of stakeholders to keep building on this strong foundation and inform NCATS strategic plan for the next decade. While we continue to address the evolving pandemic and recognize that we must prepare for future public health emergencies, we are also hyper focused on tackling the many other health challenges that we face on a daily basis. I am eager to hear your ideas on how we can harness the enormous potential of the clinical translational science enterprise and continue to promote local, regional, and national excellence as we work to get more treatments to all people more quickly.

In November 2022, I kicked off a series of roundtable discussions to explore ways we can engage the CTSA community in direct and forward-looking conversations. More than 60 CTSA principal investigators (PIs) and more than 25 institutional leaders provided valuable insights and feedback. Here are some key themes that emerged:

  • Dedicate time for open discussion. I heard that opportunities and venues for high-level strategic discussions, such as breakout sessions and open “un” meetings, work well to connect the community, facilitate the exchange of ideas, and develop new solutions that advance research and health outcomes. I have already relayed this feedback to the 2023 Program Annual Meeting planning committee to ensure that the meeting format and session agendas incorporate more time for brainstorming and consortium-wide dialogue.
  • Promote local and regional accomplishments. CTSA PIs and institutional leaders relayed that highlighting activities occurring at local and regional levels is an important way to amplify the strengths of local programs and demonstrate the value of the CTSA Program to the institutions and the communities they serve. Building on these strengths and promoting cross-consortium collaboration is critical to strengthening the national clinical research enterprise, and we are working with CTSA hub communicators and others to help identify new opportunities for sharing local accomplishments widely.
  • Bring community partners to the table. Another common theme I heard was that bringing communities and local partners to the table is essential to ensuring research outcomes that reflect the full diversity of the country. Indeed, community-based engagements are a key goal of the CTSA Program and of NCATS broader vision of getting more treatments to all people. As we construct our plan for the future, I am looking to the community to help us find innovative ways for diverse populations to engage directly with NCATS/CTSA leadership.

I also heard from CTSA PIs and institution leaders about big challenges that we as a consortium are well-poised to tackle. I look forward to discussing solutions to these challenges in what are sure to be robust and catalyzing conversations!

In the coming months, I will host additional roundtable discussions with various groups across the CTSA community to further inform NCATS long-term strategic goals. Please stay tuned for more information on ways to contribute. In the meantime, stay connected with NCATS through your favorite channel, receive updates from me through the NCATS Stakeholder listserv, and, as always, email Mike, or CTSA Program leadership anytime.

Before closing, I want to take a moment to reflect on the recent losses of our colleagues and friends, Drs. Becky Jackson, Ralph Sacco, Susan Smyth, and Gerald Supinski. They were physician-scientist giants and have left an indelible mark on our CTSA community. I encourage you to read the tributes featured in this month’s Ansible Spotlight as we remember those most recently lost.

– Joni

This Mike’s Blog was featured in February 2023’s Ansible. View the Read other full-length stories from the February 2023 Ansible