Dr. Panettieri, leaving his current role as the Robert L. Mayock and David A. Cooper Professor of Pulmonology Medicine at UPenn, assumed his position last month.
Brian Strom, chancellor of RBHS, said Rutgers’ commitment to clinical and translational science is vital to its continued evolution into one of the country’s leading academic health centers.
Translational science describes the collaborative process involving a combination of scientists — which may include researchers, clinicians, biologists and members of the pharmaceutical industry — to address an unmet medical need, such as the development of cancer drug therapy with reduced toxicity or a best-practices community approach to treating asthma.
Dr. Panettieri’s experience leading major centers at UPenn and his research and expertise in clinical and translational research for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma made him an outstanding choice to head the institute, Strom said.
“With his stature and reputation, we greatly enhance our ability to undertake major multidisciplinary collaborations and compete strongly for NIH clinical research funding,” Strom said.
Dr. Panettieri, 58, has long studied cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate airway smooth muscle cell growth and is involved in clinical investigations focused on the management of asthma and COPD, a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and in some cases asthma.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 15 million Americans say that they have COPD.
Most recently, he has served as director of both the comprehensive asthma program for the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology.
Currently, he and Vera Krymskaya are seeking FDA approval for a dual drug approach they’ve developed — rapamycin/simvastatin — to help fight a rare lung disease called lymphangioleiomyomatosis, known as LAM, which kills young women exclusively.
As institute director, Dr. Panettieri will seek to engage researchers throughout Rutgers’ undergraduate and graduate divisions in collaborative, interdisciplinary efforts to achieve common goals. A major focus, Dr. Panettieri said, will be understanding the molecular makeup of disease and illnesses.
“We need to recognize that what we define as an illness very often is a result of many illnesses,” Dr. Panettieri said. “We’ve got to become more precise so that physicians can prescribe medications and therapies that treat the right diseases. Patients are our No. 1 priority. If they aren’t benefitting from the medications we prescribe, they won’t and shouldn’t take them.”
Dr. Panettieri’s overall goal is to speed up clinical and translational research and implementation, he said, enabling the institute to demonstrate it can support applications for National Institutes of Health clinical and translational science awards that significantly advance such research.
Though he has not yet created a priority plan, Dr. Panettieri says he will explore opportunities to enhance efforts surrounding COPD and asthma as he establishes the institute’s initial wave of research projects.
Setting the institute in motion and launching the training of clinical and translational researchers will achieve another goal for Strom and Panettieri — attracting and developing new researchers.
“Our legacy will not be what we publish,” Panettieri says, “but who we train as researchers. We’re striving to make this a premier program.”