UAB tops $600M in sponsored research for the first time in history

UAB News/Tyler Greer

One year after surpassing $500 million in research grant and award funding, University of Alabama at Birmingham faculty, staff and administration have hit another institutional milestone for the first time in its 50-year history — exceeding more than $600 million in research funding awards.

Officially, UAB was awarded $602,024,372 in research grants and awards for the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2019, according to the Office of Sponsored Programs. The figure represents an extraordinary increase of $75 million in funding over one year — a 14.2 percent increase — and a second consecutive year of double-digit percentage growth.

The institution secured $527,025,137 in research grants and awards over the same time period last year, which was a 10 percent increase from 2017. UAB has now averaged 10 percent growth in its research funding awards in each of the past three years and a staggering 34 percent overall increase since 2014-15.

“This impressive upward curve, particularly during the past five years, is really a reflection of the quality of our people here at UAB,” said Christopher Brown, Ph.D., vice president for Research. “Our faculty continue to work smarter and harder to write winning proposals. It’s also a tremendously positive reflection on our administrative staff. The work they do to efficiently process these proposals is such a crucial element. We continue to aim high and exceed our goals, and it is a testament to the UAB research community’s great ideas, hard work and will to succeed.”

UAB year-over-year funding from the National Institutes of Health increased by $38 million from fiscal year 2018-19, or 11.8 percent — another remarkable achievement considering the NIH’s overall funding increased by 5 percent.

Funding from the Department of Defense to UAB also saw a dramatic increase, climbing by more than $7 million, or 63 percent.

UAB’s industry funding for clinical trials jumped by $22 million, or 42 percent, from 2017-18. UAB now ranks eighth among all public universities in the United States in all clinical trial expenditures and sixth among public universities for non-federal clinical trial expenditures. Among all United States public and private institutions, UAB ranks in the top 20 in clinical trial funding, which indicates the university’s clinical trial engine is large and industry recognizes the value UAB provides.

“This record amount in awards is the continuation of the most successful five-year epoch of research funding in UAB history,” said Ray L. Watts, UAB president. “Last year, we had a record $527 million in awards, and we immediately set the bar even higher. Through strong collaboration and partnership — around campus, throughout our community and state, and with our Board — we continue setting and exceeding ambitious goals in research and all pillars of our mission. I could not be prouder of the work of our faculty, staff and students in advancing a research enterprise that is among the most competitive in the nation and around the globe.”

Several schools increased their overall funding for the current funding period.

School of Education awards increased by almost $1.05 million, or 15 percent, to more than $8 million. The School of Health Professions increased more than $1.02 million, or 5.2 percent, to more than $20.5 million.

The School of Optometry increased funding by almost $1 million, or 25.5 percent, to $4.54 million. The School of Public Health increased by more than $1 million, or 3.17 percent, to $34.2 million.

Academic Joint Basic Health Services Departments saw an increase of $19.67 million, or 22 percent, to more than $108.7 million in funding. And the School of Medicine, which checked in among an elite group of eight academic medical centers to see a five-year increase of more than $100 million in NIH research funding this past spring, increased its overall grant funding from $303.75 million to almost $368 million — an increase of $64 million, or 21.1 percent. The School of Medicine has increased its award funding by almost $110 million over the past five years.

“The top schools in research are also among the top facilities in health care, and research and the funding that supports it are the structural basis of any academic research institution,” said Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., Ph.D., dean of UAB’s School of Medicine. “These funds also enable UAB to be a powerful economic engine for the city and the state of Alabama. When each investigator gets a grant, it is like a $1 million startup company. It means the School of Medicine has 368 startup companies — and UAB as a whole has 602 — that would never be in Alabama if it weren’t for UAB and these funding agencies. It’s a constellation of companies providing jobs at a high level and attracting new talent.”
What costs are covered by federal grant awards?

Currently, more than 1,200 UAB faculty are engaged in sponsored research activity. The funding comes from federal, state and local agencies, industry, and nonprofits and foundations.

Awarded faculty have to be very specific in their use of funds. Only a portion of research funds are earmarked for facilities and administrative costs. Those that are usually include maintaining electricity, heating and air. Rarely, if ever, are any research funds specifically marked for capital projects.

Federal grants include the costs of conducting specific research projects, including salaries, graduate student stipends, travel to scientific meetings, specific equipment and supplies. Although universities are reimbursed by the federal government for most of these costs, sometimes they are asked by agencies to share in paying for these direct research expenses.

Facilities and administrative costs include expenses that cannot be attributed to a specific research project, but which are necessary to conduct research. These costs include research facility construction and maintenance, utilities, research administration, and accounting. Funding also does not cover compliance with federal regulations in areas including human research subject protection, animal care, privacy and security of health information, export controls, disposal of hazardous materials, and other health, safety and security-related requirements.

“Research is an expensive proposition for everyone involved,” Brown said. “Every dollar we receive to conduct research requires an additional 50 cents of support from the institution. The federal government long ago recognized the value of universities in the research space, and essentially, they support the research activities while we provide the infrastructure.

“We are not provided money within this $602 million to cover construction of new buildings and facilities. We work with state and local government entities to help when those needs arise, and of course, we have our excellent Advancement team, which secures philanthropic donations from businesses or individuals who share our values and mission to build the future through new ideas and initiatives. Those can be in the classroom, studio, clinic or research laboratory.”

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