Dafna Bar-Sagi, PhD, senior vice president, vice dean for science, and chief scientific officer at NYU Langone Health describes the tremendous growth and future of biomedical research.
Biomedical research at NYU School of Medicine has experienced tremendous growth in the past five years. What’s behind this surge?
Our aspiration is to be one of the most prolific biomedical research enterprises in the country, and productivity starts with talented, dynamic people. In the past five years, we have focused on recruiting investigators who can energize our institution and plant the seeds of future success. Our strategy is already reaping dividends. The size of our research faculty has nearly doubled. The new Science Building, which opens in phases starting this fall, more than doubles our research capacity. At the same time, our grant revenue is up from $196 million in 2008 to $361 million in 2017. But numbers only tell part of the story. What is really propelling us forward is a palpable sense of vitality and creativity.
We’re enhancing our expertise in areas that we feel represent the future of biomedical science—human genetics, computational medicine, biomedical engineering, and immunology, among others—and we’re being highly strategic about how and where we invest our resources. Technology changes at lightning speed. You can invest millions in “state-of-the-art” equipment that becomes obsolete virtually overnight. Our goal is to lead the technology curve, not follow it.
Why is a strong research foundation so valuable to a medical school?
The impact of basic science on medical training can’t be overstated. Next-generation medicine will rely on increasingly complex models of physiology. In turn, future doctors will need a more refined grasp of cell and molecular biology, genomics, immunology, and so on to apply the principles of personalized medicine in the clinic. In other words, doctors will need to think more like scientists, and, conversely, scientists will need a sharper understanding of clinical challenges. Our training programs help basic scientists and clinicians find common ground.
NYU School of Medicine has a unique model for identifying and facilitating commercially viable research. How does this benefit scientists?
More than ever, researchers are encouraged to take their work beyond the lab and into the commercial sector. But making that leap is expensive, time-consuming, and daunting, if not overwhelming. Our Technology Ventures and Partnerships eases that burden by handling the painstaking work required to identify research with commercial potential and then advance it to the point where it can be licensed to industry partners. For researchers who want to take a more active role in the business end of their work, we’ve also established state-of-the-art training programs that help them learn how to commercialize and license their work.
Biomedical research is a challenging pursuit. How does NYU School of Medicine support and encourage its investigators?
I believe that people who pursue research do so because they love it. It’s not only their vocation, but their avocation. They could be extremely successful doing a lot of other things, but they choose to be scientists. Our role is to do everything we can to bolster and foster their curiosity, creativity, and passion—to help them fulfill their aspirations.
Part of that is breaking down barriers to collaboration. We pride ourselves on a culture of cooperation that inspires investigators to work together across disciplines and rank. By placing a premium on interdisciplinary research, and pooling ideas and resources across scientific silos, we put ourselves in the best possible position to innovate new treatments for a broad range of diseases that demand an equally broad range of expertise.