NIGMS Council Considers Strategies to Bolster Biomedical Workforce

By | September 21, 2017

During its September meeting, the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council (NAGMS) – which provides oversight to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – heard updates on programs intended to strengthen the biomedical research workforce pipeline.

During his opening remarks, NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch, PhD, introduced plans for the Next Generation Researchers Initiative, a trans-NIH initiative intended to provide additional support to Early Stage Investigators (ESIs, within 10 years of receiving their terminal degree) and Early Established Investigators (within 10 years of receiving first independent research grant). Noting that this initiative represents a shift away from the proposed Grant Support Index concept presented to Council during its May meeting, Dr. Lorsch said the overall goal of the program – to redistribute funds to support professional transitions of individuals in the earliest stages of their careers – remains the same.

Several Council members raised concerns about the implementation of what they regard as a more vague strategy. Dr. Lorsch said he shares those concerns, and noted that NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, had appointed him as one of the Institute Director representatives to a Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the Director, NIH, charged with overseeing implementation of this new policy.

Council members also discussed an analysis that compares the first and second round applicants and awardees of the Institute’s Maximizing Investigator’s Research Award (MIRA) for Early-Stage Investigators. Funded through the R35 mechanism, the MIRA program offers investigators the opportunity to pursue a broader research program for a slightly longer time period than that of the traditional R01 mechanism.

Now in its second year, MIRA ESI applicants have success rates comparable to R01s, and NIGMS staff continue to monitor trends related to applicant gender, age, and race/ethnicity. While the majority of applicants (70 percent) are men, it was noted that no gender differences were observed regarding the fraction of applications scored or awarded in two rounds of funding. For the second round of funding, MIRA ESI awardees were younger on average than R01 awardees.

However, significant differences between the review rates of applications from white applicants versus those from Asian and other race/ethnicity groups have compelled NIGMS to re-evaluate its grant review procedures for the third round of funding to minimize these discrepancies. By tracking applicant and awardee trends, NIGMS continues to hone the different aspects of this program, from awareness of availability to review and award, and even post-award support.