Industry-sponsored clinical trials represent a substantial portion of the clinical investigator's portfolio of patient-oriented research. In academia's efforts to reclaim lost ground with respect to the performance of industry-sponsored clinical trials, many academic health centers have established clinical trials offices. An underlying assumption has been that with improved service on the part of universities will come new opportunities for clinical research. The experiences and vantage points of academic research offices have sometimes been ignored and an analysis of what new business might ensue has not been reported. The authors discuss the rationale for creating a centralized clinical trials office and the means of financing such an effort. They then describe the initial experiences (1997–2000) of a central clinical trials office (the Research Services Organization, or RSO) at the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center, analyze the value of such an office to the academic health center, and, based on their experiences with the RSO and elsewhere, consider how industry and academia might further enhance their collaborations.
Of 354 clinical research proposals evaluated by the RSO, only 62% were found to be acceptable or highly likely to be acceptable to investigators and the institution. Reasons for not participating in specific clinical trials are discussed. Academic health centers contemplating developing clinical trials offices must be aware of the significant overhead cost associated with evaluating the appropriateness and feasibility of clinical trial proposals that may never be performed. Valuable lessons learned from working with sponsors and from working with investigators are also reviewed.