NIH Advisory Committee Considers Recommendations for Future Directions

By | June 18, 2015

The 110th meeting of the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) included presentations on topics ranging from a new strategic vision for the National Library of Medicine (NLM) to a proposed NIH-wide strategic plan, as well as updates on the implementation of  recommendations accepted during prior meetings.

The ACD NLM Working Group presented their final report outlining a new strategic vision for NLM. The report proposes NLM become a leading organization for data science both within NIH as well as throughout the biomedical research community. To that end, the Working Group issued a series of recommendations focused on six key areas: continual evolution of the Institute; promotion of open science, data sharing, and research reproducibility; advancement of data science; strengthening of relevant training for data scientists; preservation of historical research efforts; and continual evaluation of NLM talent, resources, and operational structure. The NLM Working Group presentation and subsequent discussion illustrated a strong interest to increase data sharing for NIH-funded research, which is expected to include new policies and requirements for grantees. The report also acknowledged barriers to effective data sharing, such as insufficient infrastructure. NIH Director, Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and NIH Associate Director of Data Science, Phil Bourne, PhD, both praised the report, which was accepted unanimously by the ACD.

The ACD also considered a proposed five-year strategic plan for NIH. The development of such a plan was mandated as part of the implementation of H.R. 83-346, also known as the 2015 CRomnibus appropriations bill. Lawrence Tabak, DDS, PhD, presented a draft framework that used the NIH mission as an overarching goal and proposed seven broad disease categories as trans-NIH priority areas. ACD members encouraged Drs. Tabak and Collins to revise the plan to emphasize more fundamental aspects of NIH-funded science, noting that NIH is already organized into disease- and organ system-centric Institutes and Centers. A revised plan will be presented to the ACD in two to three weeks.

Sally Rockey, PhD, Director of the NIH Office for Extramural Research, updated ACD on the implementation of recommendations made by the ACD Working Group on the Physician Scientist Workforce in June 2014. Recent efforts focused on sustaining strong support for the training of physician scientists, establishing or broadening ways to facilitate the transition of physician scientists to independent research activities, shortening the time required for training, and expanding the Loan Repayment Program. Specifically, NIH is seeking to increase the number of medical scientist training program slots by ten percent and expand this program to include DVM/PhDs at institutions with veterinary schools. To facilitate the transition to independence, NIH plans to modify existing career transition awards, such as the K08, K23, or K99/R00 mechanisms, to attract physician scientist applicants. Proposed increases in the number of Loan Repayment Program awards and the maximum repayment amount of each loan (from $35,000 to $50,000) are also intended to incentivize recruitment and retention of physician scientists.

Materials from the June 11–12 ACD meeting, including archived webcasts, presentations, and supplementary materials, are available on the NIH website.  The next ACD meeting is scheduled for December 10–11, 2015.