NIH Advisory Committee Discusses Initiatives to Improve Diversity and Data Sharing

By | June 16, 2016

Initiatives to improve diversity and increase data sharing dominated the 112th meeting of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) on June 9 and 10. Hannah A. Valantine, MD, NIH Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity, presented findings and recommendations from the NIH African American/Black Funding Disparity Working Group. The working group was established in response to a 2011 article in Science that highlighted a racial disparity in R01 funding rates. Valantine reported that a follow-up analysis including more recent data (2010-2015) found that the disparity persisted at each stage of the grant process (i.e., number of applicants, applications per applicant, and resubmissions).

The working group recommended several strategies to address the funding disparity: 1) Create a mentoring and coaching pilot program to improve application preparation, which will expand on existing National Research Mentoring Network programs; 2) Provide information about the application and review process to raise awareness about the funding success of resubmission; and 3) Pilot a study to assess potential bias in peer review led by the Center for Scientific Review. ACD was encouraged by the new strategies, but they raised serious concerns about the small percentage of African-American scientists in the funding pool, which is currently at 1.5 percent.

Douglas R. Lowy, MD, Acting Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), updated ACD on the Vice President’s Cancer Initiative, which aims to accelerate progress on cancer prevention and screening; encourage greater cooperation between academia, government, and the private sector; and share data.

To improve data sharing, NCI launched the Genomic Data Commons at the University of Chicago. The Blue Ribbon Panel tasked with determining major scientific opportunities that would benefit from additional emphasis and funding from the Vice President’s Initiative created six working groups, which focus on cancer immunology, precision prevention and early detection, tumor evolution, clinical trials, implementation sciences, pediatric cancer, and enhanced data sharing. The BRP intends to release funding opportunity announcements in early fall 2016 and fund successful grant applications by summer 2017.

The meeting concluded with a presentation by Philip Bourne, PhD, Associate Director for Data Science at NIH, on the Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative. Dr. Bourne described recent steps establishing the Commons, a shared virtual space for scientists to share data, software, metadata, and workflows, including the release of the bioCADDIE prototype (a data discovery index) and efforts to develop metadata standards. To develop the much-needed data science workforce, NIH also created new BD2K awards for pre-doctoral training programs as well as career awards for postdoctoral researchers and faculty, with a focus on enhancing diversity in the field.

Additional presentations at the meeting included updates on:

  • A number of NIH programs, including Environmental Influence on Child Health Outcomes, the Precision Medicine Initiative cohort program, and cooperation with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop interventions to reduce major global health burdens from Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, NIH Director
  • The implementation of recommendations made in the “Red Team” report, which aims to improve patient care at the NIH clinical center from Lawrence A. Tabak, DDS, PhD, NIH Principal Deputy Director
  • NIH’s response to the Zika virus outbreak from Catherine Y. Spong, MD, Acting Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and Anthony S. Fauci, MD, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

More information and materials from the meeting, including archived webcasts, presentations, and supplementary materials, are available on the NIH website.  The next ACD meeting is scheduled for December 8–9.