1998: Strengthening Health Research in America: Philanthropy’s Role

The Health Research Alliance’s roots can be traced to 1998, when a group of private funders convened at a meeting jointly organized by the American Cancer Society, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Pew Charitable Trusts.  The meeting, “Strengthening Health Research in America: Philanthropy’s Role,” considered the future of biomedical research in light of major changes in funding streams for research within academic health centers.

Early 2000’s: Role of Private Funders in Training the Next Generation of Biomedical Scientists

The group met again in 2000 and 2002 to consider the role of private funders in training the next generation of biomedical scientists, and to share best practices with respect to basic operational processes, such as electronic grantmaking.

A subset of this initial group, comprising private foundations and voluntary health agencies, began to meet periodically, informally calling itself the Clinical Research Alliance (CRA). Over the years, the CRA contributed to several developments in health research:

  • The CRA assembled data demonstrating a doubling of the private, non-profit sector’s combined contribution to the career development of clinical investigators during the period 1997-2001. For more information, download CRA Letter to the Editor, New England Journal of Medicine.
  • Several CRA members piloted award programs for clinical investigators that included repayment of educational loans, and encouraged other funders to do likewise. For more information, download The Biomedical Research Bottleneck and Clinical Research and the NIH.
  • Several CRA members* cosponsored a national meeting, “Partnering to Advance Health Research: Philanthropy’s Role,” in 2004. Attended by representatives of over 70 biomedical research foundations and voluntary health agencies, the meeting focused on building partnerships among like-minded nongovernmental funders, as well as governmental funders and for-profit entities. The meeting agenda was built around the concept of the two “translational blocks” that affect the speed and probability of translating basic biomedical science discoveries into applications that improve health. For more information, download Central Challenges Facing the National Clinical Research Enterprise.

The positive response to the 2004 meeting underscored the need for nongovernmental funders of health research to forge collaborations around common interests and to share best practices.

2005: Health Research Alliance Becomes an Independent Member Organization

With the consensus of its members, the Clinical Research Alliance became the Health Research Alliance in 2005, reflecting the group’s concern for research that leads to better health.

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund provided infrastructure support and leadership in the early years of the Alliance, which included providing office space and some administrative support, which were critical to HRA’s growth. However, HRA is now completely independent from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The Health Research Alliance was incorporated in November, 2005, and is tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code as a 509(a)(2) public charity.

A biomedical research awards database, called HRA Analyzer (formerly called Grants in the Health Research Alliance Shared Portfolio or gHRAsp) was been developed and is being used by member organizations.  The national conferences sponsored in 2006 and 2008 have turned into comprehensive Members’ Meetings offered in the spring and in the fall of each year, hosted by member organizations.


* “Partnering to Advance Health Research: Philanthropy’s Role” was planned by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the American Heart Association, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Arthritis Foundation, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the American Cancer Society.