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The power of unexpected partnerships

At WGHA we often talk about the power of unexpected partnerships that allow new breakthroughs. Sometimes a new partnership can be found by working with a familiar organization approached through a different door.

The Department of Defense funds a tremendous amount of global health research, including work in the Pacific Northwest. It’s an important potential partner to leverage our work given that less than 1% of our U.S. budget is actually devoted to foreign aid. The rate of U.S. government investment in medical research is declining and with industry investment reductions in early stage research, scientists and organizations are investigating new and more creative relationships.

Working through the bureaucracy of DoD, as in any large government organization, can be daunting. We wondered whether there might be an easier road to collaboration by looking a few miles south down Interstate 5.

Madigan Army Hospital, home to the Western Regional Medical Command for Medical Research, has world-class scientists with more alignment in global health than you might expect. So a couple of weeks ago, we convened more than 40 military and civilian global health researchers to compare notes and, most importantly, expand their circles of colleagues.

The energy in the room was truly exciting; it was a little like an expanded speed dating session. Dr. Craig Rubens and his Seattle Children’s GAPPS team shared ideas with Madigan’s OB-GYN researchers about premature birth. Seattle BioMed’s leadership explored malaria treatments and vaccines with Madigan’s infectious disease investigator. PATH’s pneumonia team got to know the pediatric researchers; The Geneva Foundation, Battelle and SightLife traded stories about clinical trials and health surveillance best practices. And UW Bioengineering and Seattle Children’s Research Institute talked about device and diagnostic commercialization. People stayed an hour later than planned, and follow-up meetings are already scheduled.

We know the obstacles to partnering with colleagues in countries thousands of miles away. We hope that, in some cases, finding alliances closer to home might help us speed our progress.