From Concept to Clinic: How the PHDA Makes Research a Reality

For researchers who have a great clinical idea (and the actual research to back it up), sometimes the hardest part is finding the support to bring it to patients in need. Thanks to the offerings of the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance, that support can become a reality.

The combined forces of the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and UPMC, give the PHDA a unique ability to offer a wide range of assistance to researchers who are ready to bring their concepts to the clinic.

“An idea is made a reality through the PHDA program because of the resources we are able to offer – data access, commercial guidance, and administrative support,” said Rachel Cawley, a Program Manager at UPMC Enterprises who works directly with the PHDA.

More often than not, a strong dataset is the backbone of any clinical project. With better data, results become more accurate. The PHDA can help a research team take raw data and translate it effectively into clinical solutions that ultimately impact healthcare outcomes.

Dr. Andy King is an informatics-trained research professor in the Department of Critical Care Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the research lead for AVIVA, a PHDA project that aims to increase evidence-uptake to improve ICU outcomes. For King, the PHDA was a major motor behind his success.

“I first heard about the PHDA during its initial press release years ago,” King said. “The news was exciting because, at the time, I was a graduate student hoping to stay in Pittsburgh for a career in biomedical innovation. This wish became more likely with UPMC’s commitment to fund researchers at Pitt and CMU because communities of innovation are linked with investment in a positive feedback loop: investment grows the community; a larger community increases investment.”

When working with the PHDA, a research project can take many different paths– depending on the intended outcome of the project. Two common paths include:

Concept to Clinic Graphic

King said that he and his team have spent the last year and a half showing proof of concept using retrospective clinical data. Up next, they will conduct a prospective demonstration in a pilot study during bedside care.

Cawley provided more context as to what a pilot is, and why it’s necessary.

“A pilot helps the team test their model in real time and build out their business case to continue commercialization, with the ultimate hope of implementing the tool in a real-world clinical setting to improve quality care and patient outcomes,” Cawley said.

Despite being well past the “idea” phase of AVIVA, King still reflects on the early stages and appreciates the support he and his team received from the PHDA – and recommends it to anyone else who might be just starting their research journey.

“Find collaborators and advisors that complement your skills,” King said. “No matter how much you think you understand your problem, solution, or market, you still need someone else’s perspective to poke holes in what you are doing and point out things that you didn’t know that you didn’t know.”

All in all, as he continues to work toward bringing AVIVA to real patients in the ICU, King said the support he’s received thus far from the PHDA has been invaluable.

“The PHDA energized us in several ways. First and foremost, they took a chance on our team by funding us. We used this funding to hire personnel and conduct foundational work. Second, they helped us navigate the intricacies of working within and across UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, including access to hardware, data security, and more. I look forward to working with the PHDA for many years to come.”