|T H E N I H C A T A L Y S T||M A R C H A P R I L 2004|
|F R O M||T H E||D E P U T Y||D I R E C T O R||F O R||I N T R A M U R A L||R E S E A R C H|
"I' IN NIH IS INNOVATION:
EVOLVING INTRAMURAL RESPONSE TO AN IOM RECOMMENDATION
Recommendation 8: Promote Innovation and Risk Taking in Intramural Research
The intramural research program should consist of research and training programs that complement and are distinguished from those in the extramural community and the private sector. The intramural programs special status obligates it to take risks and be innovative. Regular in-depth review of each component of the intramural program should occur to ensure continuing excellence. Allocation of resources to the intramural program should be closely tied to accomplishments and opportunities. Inter-institute and intramural-extramural collaborations should be supported and enhanced.
the Vitality of the National Institutes of Health: Organizational Change to
Meet New Challenges"
Committee on the Organizational Structure of the National Institutes of Health
National Research Council, Institute of Medicine
July 29, 2003
In the last eight months, two blue ribbon panels were convened to look at the way we do research here at NIH. One was organized by the Institute of Medicine and the other by the NIH director, and both have issued recommendations that place a high premium on innovative, high-risk research (see The NIH Catalyst, September-October 2003, and January-February 2004).
Moreover, our now-famous internal "Roadmap" for NIH research similarly emphasizes ways to enhance the environment here for distinctive, high-risk research.
These deliberations, both internal and external, capture much of the spirit of NIH. After all, what drew many of us to NIH in the first place were the freedom and means to pursue tantalizing research paths that would be more difficult to travel under extramural funding mechanisms. Figuring out how to build on these strengths is, above all, rewarding work.
I thought I would use this column to present the evolving intramural response to the IOM recommendation (copied above)and also to fire your enthusiasm to take your own research risks.
What We Have
The intramural program is designed to encourage long-term research investments in areas difficult to support elsewhere, while also providing an infrastructure for rapid research response to public health emergencies.
This is accomplished in four ways:
(1) NIH provides stable, relatively long-term support of creative senior investigators who were carefully chosen through national search processes either at the tenure-track or senior level.
(2) The rigorous and largely retrospective quadrennial review by external Boards of Scientific Counselors (BSCs) of all scientists with independent research resources encourages high-risk, innovative approaches to science.
(3) There are multiple mechanismssuch as bench-to-bedside awardsthat encourage collaboration and teamwork within and across institutes.
(4) Our state-of-the-art laboratory and clinical research facilities help eliminate barriers to innovative science.
What We Are Building
The NIH director convened a Blue Ribbon Panel in 2003 to recommend steps to strengthen the NIH intramural clinical research program, especially with respect to the need to conduct distinctive, high-risk research and to complement extramural clinical research activities. This panel presented its recommendations to the Advisory Committee to the Director on January 12, 2004, and they are currently being implemented.
Major changes in the clinical research program will include:
A new NIH Clinical Research Oversight Board that will consolidate existing review mechanisms to allow more effective prospective planning and budgeting for clinical research across NIH
A clinical research portfolio review group, composed of members of existing BSCs with clinical research expertise, to ensure that we can do clinical research that is distinctive and complements extramural research
Improvements in NIH training and career development programs aimed at creating the next generation of innovative clinical researchers
A new, senior-level position to help coordinate trans-NIH and intramural and extramural clinical research activities
BSC and SD Involvement
In targeted discussions with the NIH director and me, the BSC chairs agreed that out-of-the-box thinking is desirable. They were enthusiastic about piloting novel ways to encourage research support for especially innovative science. They agreed that scientists who pursue high-risk, potentially high-return research ought not be penalized by cuts in funding if projects are not successful.
A subsequent discussion with the scientific directors (SDs) reinforced the need for a better definition of what constitutes high-risk research and for the development of intramural pilot programs to encourage more of it. An SD subcommittee will develop specific definitions and recommendations.
A process has been established to facilitate trans-NIH programs of very high public-health and/or research importance. This includes naming lead institute(s), under the auspices of the Office of Intramural Research, for specific programs, as well as a governance structure and a mechanism for pooling resources and obtaining centrally available resources, such as space.
Examples already underway are the Porter Neuroscience Center (NINDS and NIMH, lead ICs), the obesity program (NIDDK, lead), the Behavioral Sciences Center (NHGRI, lead), and the NIH Stem Cell Unit (NINDS, lead; see story this issue).
As always, I welcome suggestions from you on additional ways to facilitate innovative science at NIH. And I invite you to drop a line to this publication about your own ongoing or anticipated forays into high-risk research.
Deputy Director for Intramural Research
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