Supporting U.S. Veterans in Clinical Research: The Greenphire & NAVREF Partnership
In recognition of Veteran’s Day, Greenphire interviewed Rick Starrs, the National Association of Veterans’ Research and Education Foundations (NAVREF) CEO regarding the ongoing partnership between NAVREF and Greenphire and continuous innovations in clinical research innovations occurring at the VA and NAVREF. Below are highlights from that interview.
NAVREF is the national membership association for 79 VA-affiliated nonprofit corporations supporting the administration of extramural research and education activities at 100 VA medical centers across the country. Based in Washington DC, NAVREF delivers training and education, advocates before Congress and federal agencies, communicates best practices and trends, and promotes business opportunities to better support veteran health. NAVREF envisions a nation in which veterans receive the finest care based on innovative research and education.
Joe Gough – Please highlight some of the important clinical research administered recently by your members involving veterans.
Rick Starrs – “VA researchers address a wide range of needs and challenges for the veteran population. Among this broad array of needs, VA leadership has identified 6 clinical priorities: suicide prevention, pain/opioid use, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, military/toxic exposures, and precision oncology. Over the last 18-months VA researchers have been very engaged in COVID-19 studies and the VA-affiliated nonprofits have been supporting them every step of the way. Between January 21, 2020 and July 21, 2021, VA researchers participated in 304 COVID-19 research projects across 70 VA sites and in the first 7 months of 2021, published 316 scientific papers pertaining to COVID-19. Through Operation Warp Speed and other efforts, the VA-affiliated nonprofits have participated in several clinical trials designed to evaluate potential COVID-19 vaccines, including Moderna, AstraZeneca, Janssen, Pfizer, and Novovax.”
Innovation and Operational Improvements
Joe Gough – What has been the impact on study start-up efficiency of VA’s new policy allowing the use of commercial IRBs and what was the goal?
Rick Starrs – “In late February 2020, VHA approved a new policy allowing the use of commercial IRBs under certain circumstances. This marked a notable achievement for the Access to Clinical Trials for Veterans Initiative (or ACT for Veterans) which was kicked off by NAVREF and VA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) in March 2018 with the goal of bringing more high-quality clinical trials to veterans at VA medical centers. As the ACT for Veterans initiative evolved into five workstreams, we adopted a goal of “100 days faster” for study start-up timelines. The second notable achievement of the ACT for Veterans initiative was the establishment within ORD of the Partnered Research Program (PRP) to serve as a single point of contact and entry for all extramural research activity. These advancements immediately began to show benefits in May, June, and July of 2020 by helping VA sites start-up COVID-19 vaccine studies in less than 30 days. While the data is still incomplete, early numbers indicate that study start-up timelines on average have improved by more than 100 days.”
Joe Gough – Are there other VA and NAVREF enterprise initiatives planned for the future?
Rick Starrs – “Dr. Rachel Ramoni, VA’s Chief Research and Development Officer, has established an aggressive set of initiatives in FY22 to establish the VA Research Enterprise. NAVREF fully supports her conviction that VA Research offers a unique value proposition through its ability to address veterans’ and the nation’s biomedical and health system research needs by leveraging its capabilities as an integral part of the largest integrated healthcare system in the country. The objective on which I’m most excited to partner with ORD is aimed at improving VA Research’s ability to effectively cooperate with industry and enhance veteran’s access to high quality clinical trials.”
Joe Gough – What are some new initiatives related to industry partnerships for the VA and NAVREF and what is the goal?
Rick Starrs – “During the first two years of the ACT for Veterans initiative, NAVREF identified a disconnect in perception and understanding between VA and pharmaceutical sponsors. They held outdated views of each other that inhibited their ability and desire to work together. To address this shortfall, we rolled out NAVREF’s Industry Partner Consortium in March 2021 with the objective of establishing a recurring forum for information exchange, goal sharing, and relationship building. Through the Consortium, industry partners can gain insight into Veteran research needs and better understand opportunities and target investments in areas that align with Veteran needs. At the same time, our VA-affiliated nonprofits gain insights into industry perspectives, capabilities, and interests while developing deeper, more meaningful relationships. The Consortium currently has 10 industry members, and we are seeking to add 2 more in the next quarter.”
Joe Gough – Greenphire’s ClinCard is now being used by 27 NAVREF non-profit corporation (NPC) research sites. How is the partnership with Greenphire going with NAVREF leadership, NPC sites, and veteran participants?
Rick Starrs – “NAVREF has been very pleased with the special relationship we’ve developed with Greenphire. Our VA-affiliated nonprofits have access to group rates and terms offered only to NAVREF members. I’ve received favorable reports about the convenience of ClinCard for our veterans and about the ease of use for NPC administrative staff. The numbers speak for themselves—we’ve seen the number of sites using ClinCard nearly triple in just a few years. I also appreciate the regular communication and interaction with Greenphire leadership. Your team is responsive and professional.”
Joe Gough – “Thank you Rick. This information is very exciting! We thank the NAVREF and VA for all the support they provide to our veterans. This a proud partnership to be a part of at Greenphire. We wish you much success going forward.”
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