URI College of Pharmacy, Providence VA establish research partnership

The formal agreement creates a URI research hub in the capital city, and bolsters research efforts

The University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy is establishing a research hub in Providence that will help expand its already robust research program at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in the capital city.

A new memorandum of understanding will spur collaborative research among URI, the VA and Ocean State Research Institute, Inc., a VA-affiliated non-profit research corporation. The five-year agreement establishes a formal relationship among researchers at the College of Pharmacy and the VA—the largest health-care system in the country, which lists research among its core missions—allowing them to collaborate on research grants, combine resources, confirm and expand on each other’s work, and share data to bolster research projects.

“We have so many outstanding researchers in the College of Pharmacy, and the VA’s research program—which is already fantastic—will be augmented by this research partnership,” said pharmacy Professor Kerry LaPlante, who was recently appointed dean of the URI College of Pharmacy, beginning in January 2024. “This will give URI researchers direct access to patients and patient samples. We depend on our medical school partnerships and our hospital partnerships because researchers need clinical samples for their studies. Now they can get them through this established relationship.”

Projects under the agreement will focus on data science, bench or in-vitro research, health services research and clinical research. URI researchers can request access to the national VA database, encompassing data from up to 8 million veterans and real-world test results. Additionally, they may now be eligible for a VA research appointment.

“We are extremely pleased to be working with the URI College of Pharmacy,” said Lawrence Connell, VA Providence Healthcare System director. “Research is a critical component in our commitment to provide veterans with the exceptional health care they’ve earned though their service and sacrifice, both today and in the future.” 

The partnership will help strengthen the VA’s research mission, which includes “implementation science” to shorten the time it takes for discovery to make tangible impacts on patients’ health. Currently, that timeframe is estimated at 17 years, which researchers aim to shorten to three or four years, LaPlante said.

“We want to implement science faster, and this partnership is an important step in that direction,” LaPlante said. “The mission of the VA is research. They have a long-standing commitment to research, and elevating the care they give Veterans through evidence-based research. That is also why working and partnering with the VA is so exciting.”

While the formal agreement is new, the arrangement is not unique to LaPlante and other faculty members who have maintained a clinical and research practice at the VA for nearly 20 years. Working with fellow URI professors, graduate students, and researchers at the medical center, LaPlante focuses on antibiotic use, antimicrobial resistance and health policy implementation. Part of her research includes modeling and simulating humanized doses of antibiotics to kill multi-drug-resistant bacteria by changing how antibiotics are used. She is chair of the Rhode Island Department of Health’s Antimicrobial Stewardship and Environmental Task Force, where she led the Rhode Island Antimicrobial Stewardship Expansion Initiative.

The formal partnership is an important step in advancing care for veterans and Rhode Islanders, LaPlante said, noting that Brown University has a similar agreement. “It creates an opportunity for the College of Pharmacy and URI in general to have a research hub in Providence,” she said. “With all the great research being done at URI, at the VA and at Brown, we want to continue to grow this partnership and collaborate. Doing so elevates all of us. It increases access, it synergizes and it elevates the care we give to Rhode Islanders, veterans and all patients.”