Q&A with Ryan Schroeder, Director of the Taft Center for Clinical Research at El Camino Health

As a healthcare organization that is deeply invested in the well-being of its patients, El Camino Health has always strived to be at the forefront of innovation. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is also one of the few community hospitals that boasts a dedicated clinical research program. The effort started informally through the work of its physicians and has since evolved into a fully integrated part of the hospital operations as the Taft Center for Clinical Research.

Ryan Schroeder, a seasoned research administrator with a rich history in the hospital and healthcare industry, has led the Taft Center for Clinical Research since 2015. As director, he oversees all aspects of research within El Camino Health and provides strategic leadership in the area of research goal setting, study selection, management and quality monitoring.

Prior to joining the organization, he was manager of industry-sponsored research at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and manager of healthcare and higher education at two consulting firms, Attain and BearingPoint. He also held the position of assistant director, industry contracts division at the University of California, San Francisco.

We had the privilege of hosting Ryan at a recent lunch-and-learn at the Fogarty Institute, where he shared more about the hospital’s research capabilities, processes and continual opportunities to partner with the Institute and our startups, as well as the larger medical ecosystem.

Q. What led you to join the Taft Center for Clinical Research?

A. I had been involved in the space since early 2000 in a broad range of settings, including Genentech, UCSF, consulting institutions across the country and at Cedars-Sinai. When I was approached with the opportunity of being involved in formalizing the department and setting the clinical research infrastructure, staffing and policies at El Camino Hospital, I jumped at the chance. Even more exciting was the fact that the hospital had an innovation center and incubator program, the Fogarty Institute, right on its campus to supplement the groundbreaking research work that the hospital’s physicians were already performing informally.

I am very excited about the advances being made in research and the opportunities we have to drive innovation and make a powerful impact on the health of our patients.

Q. What are the Taft Center’s research capabilities?

A. We are a relatively small but very nimble team that addresses many of the functions critical to clinical research all in one place, including feasibility, finance, legal, study management and quality assurance. This gives us the freedom to be agile and flexible, and to quickly respond and embrace new, meaningful innovative clinical research opportunities. We conduct clinical research in most specialties, including oncology, heart and vascular, stroke, orthopedics, pulmonary, maternal and child health, and gastroenterology.

Essentially, we are a one-stop shop that alleviates many of the clinical research aspects that small and large companies alike have to undertake. Entrepreneurs have access to our facility, patients and our experts, all in one location.

We see ourselves as a liaison between innovators and physicians in the quest to solve large unmet needs, as well as supporting the process of developing a medical technology. We are interested in devices that have the potential to radically disrupt our industry; for example, we have been doing quite a bit of work with artificial intelligence, including a recent trial that looked at the use of robotic technologies to diagnose pulmonary diseases. It’s a great way for us to diversify and keep pace with new fronts in technology.

Q. What are some of the successes you are most proud of?

A. In 2019, we are proud to have had more than 50 active studies in a broad range of concentrations, including oncology, heart and vascular, pulmonology, NICU, stroke and others. Several highlights include:

  • The PulmonX “Liberate” trial endobronchial valves that are now FDA-approved to treat emphysema. We are proud that El Camino Health’s Mountain View hospital is the second treatment center in the U.S. for this condition.
  • Serving as a key site for the COAPT/MitraClip study for this groundbreaking device that has now treated over 100,000 patients.
  • Expanding our cancer research portfolio to include diagnostic, therapeutic and digital health studies.
  • Partnering with Stanford to join StrokeNet in the aim to support our goals to become a comprehensive stroke center.
  • Helping our cancer center earn a Commendation Accreditation Gold Level from the Commission on Cancer for our cancer research enrollment.

And we are very pleased to have worked with a variety of partners, including Fogarty Institute startups such as G-Tech, CyberHeart, Materna and Chronus Health; as well as several of its graduates, including Alydia Health. We also work with many academic medical centers and a variety of larger companies.

Having a strong research center right here in the hospital is truly a win-win for everyone: Startups have the opportunity to vet their devices with expert physicians while accessing a pool of patients, and the hospital partakes in the important role of advancing innovation in various ways, including assisting entrepreneurs in making better decisions about the studies they are considering. It also allows our physicians and nursing teams to stay on the cutting edge of innovation. Ultimately, of course, the best outcome is that the patients benefit from the latest technologies and resulting therapies.

Q. What are some of the challenges, opportunities and lessons learned from some of the clinical studies?

A. In healthcare, there is no lack of issues to address. Innovators are problem solvers and tend to get started on finding a solution, but it’s important to first stop and think about the FDA’s protocol approval status before potentially investing time going down the wrong path. It’s also crucial to ensure you have adequate funding to support the entire process. Getting everyone to coalesce behind the same timetable, goals, budget and expectations is critical in helping ensure a successful study.

Another important consideration is to ensure that the study is designated to be patient centric in order to assure participation. For example, if your study requires repeated visits for testing, perhaps you can create a remote option. Equally important, make sure you understand and adhere to the logistics behind patient enrollment, including privacy regulations.

Lastly, it’s important to continue growing physician engagement, which is something we can really help with by assisting in finding the right physicians who can help you with your study.

Overall, I believe this is a really exciting time in innovation, and we are fortunate to be engaged with the dynamic research team and energetic leadership at El Camino Health, and opportunity to partner with FII on our campus. As we move into our new state-of-the-art facility, our future and ability to make an impact are exceedingly bright.

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