As the world moves to an increasingly global society — economically, technologically and culturally — the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, and other government agencies have called on major medical research institutions around the world to expand their work and translate basic science and biomedical research into tangible improvements in care for patients worldwide, including new drugs, vaccines, diagnostics, and treatment protocols. To answer this call, leaders from the University of Michigan Health System and Peking University Health Science Center established the Joint Institute for Translational and Clinical Research. In August 2009, leaders from each university met in Beijing to discuss a formal and mutually beneficial research partnership. Both institutions had been actively seeking opportunities to maximize their capacity for translational research by collaborating with a prestigious university abroad. 

UMHS has a long history of working with Chinese institutions, with faculty having co-authored more than 234 journal articles with colleagues in China in the last five years. UMHS has approximately 20 departments collaborating with more than 30 Chinese universities, and already has a joint laboratory with Peking University. In addition, in the University of Michigan Health System, there are 1,080 employees holding Chinese citizenship. PUHSC also has a strong track record of collaboration with U.S. universities, including a number of joint projects with UMHS faculty. Both universities share similar institutional infrastructure, with strong links between their medical schools and hospitals. In addition to its world class basic science research faculty, Peking University also has tremendous clinical resources to enhance clinical research capacity and productivity. The PUHSC hospitals have 6,688 beds, compared to UMHS Hospitals' 930. On a daily basis, PUHSC has 32,431 outpatient visits and 1,810 emergency room visits; UMHS has 6,411; and 319 respectively.

Through a number of successful meetings throughout 2009 and 2010, representatives from each university together established an organizational structure, established key research priorities, and created a strategic plan designed to encourage research collaborations among faculty. Each university committed $7-million to the partnership. A consortium of leading experts from both universities identified opportunities to jointly conduct cutting-edge research in key medical areas, including pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and renal disease. To facilitate collaboration, the two universities created an organizational structure and established infrastructure "cores" to work through potential issues and concerns, including human protection, biorepositories and biomedical informatics, as well as research on science of collaboration. The Joint Institute was officially launched in October 2010.