Early Notice: Concept Clearance for the Reorganization of Undergraduate and Graduate Programs to Enhance Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce

UPDATE: The Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) funding opportunity announcement is now available.

NIGMS has a longstanding commitment to developing a diverse pool of biomedical scientists through a variety of institutional training and student development programs. Based on stakeholders’ feedback through Requests for Information (NOT-GM-15-108; NOT-GM-17-017), as well as extensive analyses and discussions with NIH staff and the community, we intend to make adjustments to our programs designed to enhance the diversity in the biomedical research workforce. The modifications, which the NIGMS Council recently approved, are designed to: 1) provide equity of trainee support across programs; 2) prevent programmatic overlap; 3) align the funding strategies with the programmatic goals; 4) tailor expectation of outcomes, support mechanisms, and review considerations according to the institution’s level of research activity; and 5) strengthen our ability to evaluate the success of the programs. The changes, described in more detail in the recent Videocast of the Council Open Session, will impact the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD), the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program, and the Maximizing Access to Research Careers – Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (MARC U-STAR) programs. We don’t anticipate any immediate changes to our Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP). Possible adjustments to the Bridges to the Baccalaureate and Bridges to the Doctorate programs are currently under discussion.

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Notice: Concept Clearance for MIDAS Coordination Center

Watch the MIDAS presentation at the September Advisory Council meeting.

At its September 2017 meeting, our Advisory Council endorsed the concept of a MIDAS Coordination Center.

MIDAS, or the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study program, is a collaborative network of research groups that focus on developing bioinformatics tools and computational models to understand the interactions between infectious agents and their hosts, disease spread, prediction systems, and response strategies.

Initially the MIDAS network consisted of research centers (U54s), research projects (U01s), and an information service group (U24). These activities will expire in 2019, and NIGMS is shifting the focus of this program to an investigator-initiated research portfolio consisting of R01s, R35 MIRA grants, and fellowships and mentored career development awards (Fs, Ks).

However, modeling of infectious disease agents continues to be an active area where a coordinated effort is needed. NIGMS Council members supported the concept of a MIDAS Coordination Center. We envision the MIDAS Coordination Center to serve as a focal point for collaboration and training as well as testing and dissemination of MIDAS research products. The center will also act as the point of contact between the MIDAS network and public health organizations.

We expect to issue a funding opportunity announcement in early 2018, and we encourage the community to watch the presentation at our Council meeting to learn more about this program. We welcome your input and feedback on these plans. You can email your comments to me or post them here.

Early Notice: New NIGMS Institutional Predoctoral Training Grant Funding Opportunity Announcement

UPDATE: The new predoctoral T32 funding opportunity announcement specifically tailored for predoctoral graduate programs in the basic biomedical sciences is now available.

Dr. Alison Gammie presents on The New NIGMS Institutional Predoctoral Training Grant Funding Opportunity Announcement

The NIGMS T32 presentation at the January 2017 Advisory Council meeting begins at 1:43:07.

At the recent NIGMS Advisory Council meeting, the Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity requested, and received, approval to write a new predoctoral T32 funding opportunity announcement (FOA), specifically tailored for predoctoral graduate programs in the basic sciences and designed to help catalyze the modernization of biomedical graduate education. The goal is to enable the community to develop and implement innovative approaches to education and mentoring that will more effectively and efficiently train future generations of outstanding biomedical researchers, and will allow graduate education to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the biomedical research enterprise. Taking into account the feedback we have received from various stakeholders over the past year, the new FOA will:

  • Emphasize the development of a diverse pool of exceptionally well-trained scientists;
  • Focus on skills development, rigor and reproducibility, inclusive and supportive training environments, and responsible conduct;
  • Address conflicts in the incentive structure of the research enterprise that adversely impact biomedical graduate education;
  • Encourage the use and dissemination of evidence-based, innovative educational and mentoring practices;
  • Emphasize improvements in career preparation (broadly defined), and dissemination of career outcomes on publicly available sites.

The intention is not to layer additional activities onto existing structures. Instead, this funding announcement is designed to allow for a creative reinvention of biomedical graduate education that preserves the best elements, while enhancing the focus on the development of research and professional skills by trainees.

We expect to issue the new T32 FOA this fall and to receive the first applications in May 2018. The new FOA will apply to all NIGMS predoctoral T32 training grants, except for the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), which will remain on the parent T32 announcement for now. We plan in the future to develop a parallel FOA that is specific for the goals of the MSTP.

We encourage the community to watch the presentation at our Council meeting and view the slide deck. As always, we welcome your input and feedback on these plans. You can post your comments below.

Early Notice: New Program to Support Collaborative, Team-Based Science

UPDATE: We thank the community for its initial feedback as we continue to develop plans for this program, which will support research within the NIGMS mission (including a limited number of clinical areas). The program will offer comparable levels of support as the program project (P01) mechanism, but its structure will be quite different. In addition to the capacity building and AIDS-Related Structural Biology program centers, we will continue to support the Biomedical Technology Research Resource centers (P41), Mature Synchrotron Resources (P30), and select coordinating or resource centers in areas of high strategic need.

Dr. Susan Gregurick presents on The Collaborative Grant Program

The Collaborative Grant Program presentation at the January 2017 Advisory Council meeting begins at 2:14:10.

At its January 2017 meeting, our Advisory Council endorsed a concept for a new program to support collaborative, team-based science. This initiative is the result of evaluations of our previous programs, recent research on the science of team science Exit icon, and community input.

Many research questions in biomedical science can be pursued by single investigators and their close collaborators through single- or multi-principal investigator R01 grants. However, complex research questions may require the coordinated efforts of several research laboratories and closer collaborations among researchers with diverse areas of expertise. NIGMS recognizes the importance and benefits of supporting collaborative research teams when these are necessary to achieve important scientific breakthroughs or new understanding of phenomena.

NIGMS’ new Collaborative Program Grant is designed to support highly integrated, multidisciplinary research teams of three to six investigators who will address complex research questions, train and mentor new scientists, and impact scientific problems that would benefit from coordinated research support. The key application requirements are a single, integrated research program without subprojects and a multiple-principal investigator management plan. We expect to issue a funding opportunity announcement by the summer and, beginning in 2018, we will make four to six awards per year with annual direct costs ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million. We plan to phase out our use of the P01 and most of our other center mechanisms. We will continue to support capacity building centers, such as those of the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, and to support the AIDS-Related Structural Biology program centers.

We encourage the community to watch the presentation at our council meeting, and we welcome your input and feedback on these plans. You can email your comments or post them here.

New NIGMS Technology Development Program Announcements

We would like to tell you about two new technology development funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) recently published in the NIH Guide. We previously wrote about the approval of these programs by our Advisory Council. They are part of an ongoing effort to facilitate early stage, investigator-initiated work to create or improve tools for biomedical research. We think the two FOAs briefly described below will stimulate early stage technology research and development by allowing scientists to focus on making the technology work before they begin to apply those tools to biomedical research questions.

Exploratory Research for Technology Development (PAR-17-046): This program will support modest 2-year R21 grants to develop a new technology or radically improve an existing one. Projects will be high-risk and have no preliminary data. The proposed technology should be justified by a significant biomedical research need, but the proposal should not include the application of the technology to a biomedical problem—it should focus on technology development.

Focused Technology Research and Development (PAR-17-045): This program will support R01 grants that are entirely focused on the development of an emerging technology with a strong potential to impact biomedical research. The program will not allow inclusion of a significant biomedical research problem because the technology will not be ready for that until the project is over. These grants will be renewable only once.

The deadline for the first round of applications is February 16, 2017.

To help investigators determine which technology development program is right for their project, we’ve posted a decision tree on the NIGMS website. It includes descriptions of the programs designed to support all stages of technology development.

We welcome questions or comments about these FOAs or our technology development programs in general.

Early Notice: Revised Biomedical Technology Research Resources Program

BTRR September 2016 Advisory Council Presentation

My BTRR presentation at the September 2016 Advisory Council meeting begins at 2:23:15.

At its September 2016 meeting, our Advisory Council endorsed a concept for funding the Biomedical Technology Research Resources (BTRR) program. The concept includes a number of changes that reflect feedback from an expert panel of scientists convened by NIGMS to evaluate the program. In its report, the panel made important recommendations to:

  • Increase the flexibility and nimbleness of the program.
  • Incorporate a broader range of technologies into the program.
  • Increase new research directions and program turnover and implement a comparative review process.
  • Enable better integration of the program with the overall technology development plans at NIGMS.

The revised BTRR program will provide greater flexibility for the investigators to support a wider range of approaches for technology innovation and dissemination. The program will include collaborative subprojects to integrate emerging technologies in fast moving fields and to provide access and dissemination of these technologies. In addition, research resources funded through this program will have greater flexibility to tailor approaches for providing access, training users and disseminating the specific technologies to the communities being served.

These changes will better support the dual mission of the BTRR program: to develop high-impact technologies that enable biomedical research, and to move those technologies into wide use in the community.

We expect a funding opportunity announcement to be published in the NIH Guide later this year. In order to improve consistency in the review of competing applications, the NIH Center for Scientific Review will convene a special study section. We anticipate that most BTRR centers will not be renewed beyond three cycles (15 years) and we will require investigators involved with this program to formulate a sustainability plan for their research resources.

We welcome your input and feedback. You can email your comments to me or post them here.

New NIGMS Initiatives for Supporting Technology Development

The January 2016 Advisory Council meeting presentation on the initiatives begins at 1:14:43

The January 2016 Advisory Council meeting presentation on the initiatives begins at 1:14:43.

We would like to tell you about two new technology development initiatives recently approved by our Advisory Council. These programs are part of an ongoing effort that we’ve previously described to facilitate early stage, investigator-initiated work to create or improve tools for biomedical research.

Developing and providing access to technologies that enable biomedical research is a high priority for NIGMS, as expressed in our 2015 strategic plan. Historically, support for technology development has generally been coupled to using the technology to answer a biomedical research question. Although in the later stages of technology development this coupling is often useful, in the early stages it can hinder exploration of innovative ideas that could ultimately have a big impact on research.

We think the two initiatives briefly described below will stimulate early stage technology research and development by allowing scientists to focus on making the technology work before they begin to apply those tools to biomedical research questions.

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Early Notice: Mature Synchrotron-Based Resources Funding Opportunity Plan

At its September 2015 meeting, our Advisory Council endorsed a concept for funding existing NIGMS-supported synchrotron resources in which the technologies have become mature. This plan will align the funding mechanism used to support the beamlines with the goal of ensuring reliable access to these essential resources for structural biology.

In place of the variety of mechanisms we currently use, we intend to issue a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) called Mature Synchrotron Resources (P30) for 5-year, renewable grants in the range of $1-3 million per year in direct costs. The Institute intends to maintain overall support for mature beamline facilities at the same level it has in the past, but to replace the previous constellation of funding mechanisms with a single, more coherent one.

The focus of the FOA will be on user access, training and support in data collection, processing and analysis. Peer review will assess the resources primarily on their ability to meet the research needs of the user community and on the impact the resources have on their users’ scientific productivity. To ensure that the beamlines maintain their state-of-the-art operations, the FOA will also include support for a limited amount of technology development and implementation.

Since the goal of the effort is to improve the stability of current NIGMS-supported synchrotron structural biology resources for community use, the initial funding opportunity will be open only to synchrotron-based resources already supported by NIGMS.

We welcome your input and feedback on these plans. You can email your comments to me or post them here.

Charles Edmonds, Susan Gregurick, Ward Smith and Mary Ann Wu contributed to this blog post.

Update on Proposed Pilot to Support NIGMS Investigators’ Overall Research Programs

NIGMS Advisory Council meetingAt last week’s Advisory Council meeting, I presented a report on the comments we received in response to our request for information (RFI) on a potential new program for research funding.

As described in the blog post announcing the RFI, the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program would provide a single award in support of all of the projects in an investigator’s lab that are relevant to the NIGMS mission. A MIRA would be longer and larger than the current average NIGMS R01 award.

We received more than 290 responses through the official RFI comment site. We heard from individual investigators as well as several scientific organizations. Most of the responses were positive, and both established and early stage investigators indicated that they were very likely to apply.

The respondents identified the most valuable aspects of the proposed program as:

  • Increased flexibility to follow new research directions as opportunities and ideas arise,
  • Savings of time and effort currently spent on writing and reviewing applications, and
  • Enhanced stability of research support.

However, some responses expressed concerns, which we are taking into consideration. Despite the intention of the program to optimize the distribution of NIGMS resources, some respondents thought that it could lead to funds becoming concentrated in fewer labs at the most elite institutions. This was in part a reflection of the phased implementation plan, which would focus initially on investigators with more than one NIGMS grant. Respondents urged NIGMS to broaden the eligibility criteria as quickly as possible following the initial pilot phase. Other concerns that were raised related to peer review and program evaluation.

For more about the RFI results, including a breakdown of responses by question, watch my presentation, which begins at 2:18 on the archived videocast.

The Advisory Council discussed the MIRA proposal and then approved plans to proceed with developing the program. We plan to issue a funding opportunity announcement in early 2015, with the first awards being made in Fiscal Year 2016. We intend to evaluate the MIRA program and if it is successful, will broaden it.

Transitioning the Pharmacogenomics Network

PGRN LogoAt our September Advisory Council meeting, I presented plans for transitioning the Pharmacogenomics Research Network (PGRN) from set-aside funding into the regular, competitive research pool. Council approved the plans, so we are now moving forward on them. The reshaped program will continue to fund research and network activities designed to propel discovery and implementation. We will also continue to coordinate our support of pharmacogenomics and precision medicine with other NIH institutes and offices.

Our transition plans include soliciting applications for a limited number of research centers (P50) and network resources (R24) as well as the PharmGKB knowledgebase (R24) and a coordinating center to support network functions (U01). New funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) will be published in early 2014, with application due dates beginning in the late spring. These FOAs will be program announcements with multiple receipt dates that are open for several years and will not have set-aside funds.

All investigators with an interest in pharmacogenomics who are funded through these and other mechanisms may indicate a desire to participate in the network beginning in July 2015. Many network activities will be based on the PGRN and other successful models.

I welcome your input on these changes.