University of Arizona research activity topped $622 million in total research and development expenditures for fiscal 2017, surpassing the previous year’s total by more than $18 million.

The UA’s total R&D expenditures also exceeded the annual target set by the Arizona Board of Regents by more than $11 million.

“This jump in expenditures means that federal agencies, and other organizations that provide funding, are choosing to invest more of their dollars in the University of Arizona,” said UA President Robert C. Robbins. “The grants that bring in millions of dollars are highly competitive. The fact that we are seeing a bigger share speaks to the reputation of the UA and the hard work and incredible talent of the faculty members and scientists who are making discoveries that improve the world.”

The number of UA faculty who are leading an R&D award and the number of R&D awards also climbed. In fiscal 2017, which ended June 30, a total of 1,351 UA researchers were principal investigators or co-principal investigators on an R&D award, up from 1,297 in 2014 among a constant total number of faculty. The number of R&D awards increased by 427, rising from 2,354 in 2014 to 2,781 in 2017.

Comparisons are made with 2014 numbers because that was the first year that did not include stimulus funds provided as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was enacted after the Great Recession.  

In addition, the number of new large-scale awards — those exceeding $2 million — increased more than 45 percent between 2014 and 2017, as did awards with cross-college collaborations, indicating increased teaming among researchers from different disciplines.

The increase in R&D activity adds to the UA’s upward trajectory, in large part because of the University’s collaborative culture and innovative approaches, said Kimberly Andrews Espy, UA senior vice president for research. 

“The UA has turned the corner. The success of our enterprise depends on the talent of our faculty. Their innovative ideas, hard work and productivity drive us forward,” Espy said. “This increase in the UA’s R&D activity demonstrates that our strategies to support the great ideas of our University researchers are working. I have no doubt that under President Robbins’ leadership, and with our new strategic plan, the UA will achieve even greater research heights in the future.”

The increase in R&D expenditures from federal sources is particularly noteworthy given the strained agency budgets. Growth in R&D expenditures in the life sciences, which includes medical, biological and agricultural sciences, is exceptional, Espy said. Life science R&D activity at the UA totaled $348.5 million in 2017 — $71 million more than in 2014. New R&D award totals from the Department of Health and Human Services grew to $189 million — an increase of more than 45 percent from the year before and nearly triple what it was in 2014.

Highlights from fiscal 2017 awards include:

• A $43 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to participate in the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program, which aims to enroll 1 million or more U.S. participants to improve prevention and treatment of disease based on individual differences in lifestyle, environment and genetics. 

• Recognition of the University of Arizona Cancer Center for its multidisciplinary cancer research and research-driven clinical care by the National Cancer Institute. The NCI renewed the center’s status as a Comprehensive Cancer Center and awarded a five-year, $17.6 million Cancer Center Support Grant, based on the strength, depth and breadth of basic laboratory, clinical, prevention, control and population-based research. The UA Cancer Center is one of only 45 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation.

• A $10.3 million, five-year program project grant from the National Institute on Aging to UA neuroscientist Roberta Diaz Brinton and her colleagues in the Center for Innovation in Brain Science at the UA Health Sciences to study Alzheimer’s disease in women.