August 4, 2023

The American Statistical Association (ASA) has chosen a partnership between the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, Merck and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to receive the 2023 Statistical Partnership among Academe, Industry, and Government (SPAIG) Award.

The SPAIG Award recognizes outstanding partnerships between academe, industry and government organizations and promotes new partnerships among these organizations. Nominee collaborations must span at least two of the three domains and have resulted in significant contributions to the statistical field with applications to real-world problems. The award is sponsored by the SPAIG committee and is distinct from other ASA awards in that it recognizes outstanding collaborations between organizations, while also recognizing key individual contributors.

For 14 years, the Gillings School, Merck and NCI have leveraged an enduring collaboration to improve the efficiency of drug development, allowing safe and effective medications to reach patients sooner and make a significant impact on public health. The collaboration has led to the development of innovative and impactful statistical methods and software applicable to pharmaceutical research and has produced an array of projects, including numerous student dissertations, peer-reviewed publications, seminars and short courses.

Dr. Joseph Ibrahim

Dr. Joseph Ibrahim

The partnership began in 2009, soon after UNC’s Laboratory for Innovative Clinical Trials (LICT) was established as part of the first Gillings Innovation Lab. Funded by the Gillings Gift, the LICT was key component of Dr. Dennis Gillings’ vision to foster statistical collaboration among academia, industry and regulatory agencies. Today, the LICT, led by Joseph G. Ibrahim, PhD, Alumni Distinguished Professor of biostatistics, continues to produce impactful statistical and methodological research around clinical trials and outcomes, setting the standard for academic-industry-government collaborations.

Dr. Lisa LaVange

Dr. Lisa LaVange

“Dr. Ibrahim’s reputation as one of the foremost Bayesian statisticians in the world enhances his leadership of the LICT,” said Lisa LaVange, PhD, professor and emerita chair of biostatistics. “Under his direction, funding for the partnership has been nearly continuous. He has done a superb job linking rigorous new research in statistical methods to the applications that best make use of these methods to benefit medical research in general, and drug development research, in particular.”

Ibrahim is a key contributor named in the SPAIG Award, along with Arvind Shah, PhD (Merck); Sungduk Kim, PhD (NCI); the late Joseph Heyse, PhD (Merck); Ming-Hui Chen, PhD (University of Connecticut); William Wang, PhD (Merck); Jianxin Lin, PhD (Merck); Donglin Zeng, PhD (Gillings School); Guoqing Diao, PhD (George Washington University); Ethan Alt, PhD (Gillings School); and Amarjot Kaur, PhD (Merck).

While the partnership began with only four people – Ibrahim of the Gillings School’s Department of Biostatistics and Heyse, Shah and Liu of Merck’s Biostatistics and Research Decision Sciences (BARDS) group – it has since grown to include NCI and other academic institutions, and it now features 15 collaborators and five doctoral students spanning six separate projects.

“The SPAIG Award represents the epitome of applied statistical collaboration and reflects a truly equal collaborative research effort and partnership between academia, industry and government,” said Ibrahim.

The team will receive the award at the upcoming Joint Statistical Meetings on Aug. 6-10 in Toronto.

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