Publication Date


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Academic Program

Master of Science in Clinical Investigation


Program in Molecular Medicine

First Thesis Advisor

Gary R. Ostroff, Ph.D.


Valproic Acid, Retinitis Pigmentosa, Clinical Trial, Phase II


The body of work presented here is a compendium of the multiple steps required for an investigator initiated trial of an existing medication (Valproic Acid- VPA) for a new indication (Retinitis Pigmentosa – RP). The chapters are listed in logical and chronological order of the process. In order to access patient records an expedited Institutional Review Board (IRB) application for retrospective chart review was submitted (Chapter 1). These records enabled the statistical analysis which not only laid the framework for the trial design, but also became the basis for two manuscripts (Chapter 2). Protocol development informed by the preliminary human studies (Chapter 3) was an instrumental part of the Investigational New Drug (IND) application (Chapter 3.5). This protocol along with the extensive case report forms that detail the intended data to be collected are included in the IND application. Because the Phase II clinical trial proposed attempting to identify the specific RP mutations of the subjects utilizing a National Eye Institute (NEI) study that enabled free genotyping services, two IRB applications were submitted (Chapter 3.6). The first was for approval of the NEI genotyping protocol, the second involved the VPA intervention. Two very different sources of funding for this trial were attempted (Chapter 4) – the NIH via the Challenge Grant mechanism and a private eye disease foundation (Foundation Fighting Blindness). In Chapter 5 I detail the alternate study designs that were considered and developed for this trial (and ultimately abandoned). Finally, in Chapter 6, I formally detail my suggestions to aid in the development of a comprehensive investigator initiated core facility at UMMMC.

The goal of this project was two-fold. The first was to learn the entire process of trial and protocol design both from a Umass Institutional perspective as well as from the perspective of the FDA. The second goal was the very real prospect of helping patients with a blinding disease. This work was successful on both counts. IRB approval was received for all the submitted applications. The complexity and uniqueness of many aspects of these submissions culminated in a comprehensive learning experience. The process of working with the Umass Research Pharmacy as well as developing the industry contacts and know-how to develop a workable and financially feasible placebo were both particularly important learning experiences. FDA approval of the IND submission was also received, and the process of pre-communication and delving into the considerable and ever-changing rules and regulations resulted in an extensive and valuable knowledge base. While the practicality of funding has limited the ability of this trial to move forward at this point, given the extensive framework laid by this body of work, we are actively pursuing other opportunities.

The third outcome of this work, while not as intentional, was the considerable process of determining the specific competencies and infrastructure that exist at UMMMC to enable investigator initiated drug intervention studies. While this institution is clearly moving rapidly in the direction of translational research, the many needs of these studies are often only clearly understood when the process is specifically undertaken. In completing the approval of this Phase II clinical trial, I was not only able to better understand and define the existing capabilities of UMMMC for this kind of research, I was able to add to that infrastructure when the existing knowledge or skill set was not available. In this manner, I was able to inform and guide many of the support personnel who guided me and have become a part of the strategic direction of UMMMC towards clinical translational research.



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