MIRA Status and Future Plans

Now that we have completed the review process for Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) applications from the first eligible cohort of established investigators, I would like to update you on the program’s status and plans for its future. I shared this information with our Advisory Council at its recent meeting in January.

Screenshot of video
My update on the MIRA program at the January 2016 Advisory Council meeting begins at 26:06.

The first funding opportunity announcement (FOA) we issued (RFA-GM-16-002) was for established investigators who had either two NIGMS R01s or one NIGMS R01 for more than $400,000 in direct costs. In either case, one grant had to be expiring in 2016 or 2017. Out of the 710 investigators who could have met these criteria, 179 submitted applications, corresponding to 25% of the eligible pool.

Among the eligible investigators, 80% were male and 20% were female. This ratio was unchanged among those who applied, as were the percentages across racial and ethnic groups (Figure 1). Thus, although the demographics of the group of investigators that was eligible for this first FOA were skewed in several ways, the skewing was not exacerbated in those who chose to apply. Continue reading

Dorit Zuk to Direct Genetics and Developmental Biology Division

Dorit Zuk, Ph.D.I’m very pleased to announce that Dorit Zuk will be joining us in early 2016 as the new director of our Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology (GDB). Dorit is a molecular biologist whose research has focused on muscle development and RNA metabolism. She also has a strong background in science policy and communications.

Dorit is currently director of the Office of Policy, Communications and Strategic Alliances at NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Previously, she was the science policy advisor to the NIH deputy director for extramural research. And prior to serving in these and other government positions, she worked in scientific publishing as the deputy editor of Cell and then the editor of Molecular Cell.

Her expertise in genetics, developmental biology and other scientific fields; knowledge of policy areas ranging from financial conflicts of interest to the future of the biomedical research workforce; and ability to engage effectively with scientists and other stakeholders make Dorit an ideal choice for this key position and a valuable addition to our senior leadership team.

Please join me in welcoming her to NIGMS.

For more about Dorit, see our news announcement.

Catalyzing the Modernization of Graduate Education

A major overhaul of how we educate graduate students in biomedical research is long overdue.

Science has changed dramatically over the past three decades. The amount of information available about biological systems has grown exponentially. New methods allow us to examine the inner workings of cells with unprecedented resolution and to generate expansive datasets describing the expression of every mRNA or metabolite in a system. Biomedical research is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and collaborative, and the questions we seek to answer are more and more complex. Finally, as the scientific enterprise has expanded, Ph.D.s have pursued increasingly diverse careers in the research and development, education and related sectors.

Despite these major changes, we educate Ph.D. students in biomedical research in essentially the same way as we did 25 or more years ago. As Alan Leshner put it in a recent editorial Exit icon in Science magazine, “It is time for the scientific and education communities to take a more fundamental look at how graduate education in science is structured and consider, given the current environment, whether a major reconfiguration of the entire system is needed.”

Problems related to the reproducibility and rigor of scientific studies Exit icon are likely driven in part by the inadequacies of an outdated system for educating our trainees. When nearly any student can sequence hundreds of millions of bases of DNA in a few days, does it make sense that all of our students are not given a significant amount of training in quantitative and computational analyses? And as we delve into more complex biological systems, shouldn’t students be receiving in-depth training in rigorous experimental design and data interpretation before they embark on their thesis work?

Continue reading

Comment on Proposed Framework for NIH-Wide Strategic Plan

NIH is currently gathering input from the scientific community, including stakeholder organizations, on the proposed framework for its 5-year strategic plan. Responses are due by August 16, 2015.

We’ve been asked to share this message from NIH Principal Deputy Director Larry Tabak about the call for comments and suggestions:

In order to advance the NIH mission, the NIH is developing an NIH-wide Strategic Plan. The goal of this 5-year plan is to outline a vision for biomedical research that ultimately extends healthy life and reduces illness and disability. NIH senior leadership and staff have developed a proposed framework for the Strategic Plan that identifies areas of opportunity across all biomedicine and unifying principles to guide NIH’s support of the biomedical research enterprise. The aim is to pursue crosscutting areas of research that span NIH’s 27 Institutes, Centers, and Offices.

I invite you to review the framework in our Request for Information and on the NIH website, and to provide your feedback via the RFI submission site. I encourage stakeholder organizations (e.g., patient advocacy groups, professional societies) to submit a single response reflective of the views of the organization/membership as a whole. We also will be hosting webinars to gather additional input. These webinars will be held in early to mid-August.

Your input is vital to ensuring that the NIH Strategic Plan positions biomedical research on a promising and visionary path. I appreciate your time and consideration in assisting us with this effort.

The webinars Exit icon mentioned in Larry’s message are scheduled for August 5, 11 and 13.

Alison Gammie to Lead Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity Division

Alison Gammie, Ph.D.I’m very pleased to announce that Alison Gammie will be joining us in the late summer as the new director of our Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity (TWD). She’s currently a senior lecturer in molecular biology at Princeton as well as an innovator and leader in teaching, mentoring, diversity-building and recruitment programs there. Through collaborations and other approaches, she has also contributed in many ways to improving undergraduate STEM training on a national level.

Alison has a strong record of recognizing needs, identifying gaps and developing successful strategies to address and overcome these challenges.

Continue reading

Establishment of Our Center for Research Capacity Building

I am pleased to announce that we have established a new Center for Research Capacity Building (CRCB). It will serve as the hub for our capacity-building programs, which include the Institutional Development Award (IDeA), Support of Competitive Research (SCORE) and Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH).

We appreciate the comments we received in response to our requests for public input on the proposed organizational change. They reflected strong support for creating the center.

The new center’s activities are focused in states that historically have not received significant levels of NIH research funding and at institutions that have a historical mission focused on serving students from underrepresented groups.

Continue reading

Give Input on Strategies for Optimizing the Impact and Sustainability of Biomedical Research

An important, recurring discussion topic on our blogs is ways to maximize the impact and sustainability of NIH-funded biomedical research. In 2011, a Rock Talk post on managing NIH’s budget in fiscally challenging times solicited many comments and led, in part, to an NIH-wide policy on special council review for applications from PIs who have more than $1 million in NIH funding. We have also implemented new programs that provide more stable support for investigators over longer time periods. A more recent example of the “maximizing impact and sustainability” theme is an NIGMS Feedback Loop post that discussed ideas for how to optimize the biomedical research ecosystem.

We’re each leading an NIH-wide working group focused on topics key to this important theme. One group (chaired by Sally) is exploring ways to decrease the time it takes investigators to reach research independence, and the other (chaired by Jon) is looking to develop more efficient and sustainable funding policies and other strategies.

Recently, NIH solicited your comments on an “emeritus award” concept as part of activities of the group chaired by Sally. The group is now in the midst of analyzing all of the comments it received to see what the next steps will be in regard to this type of award.

To inform the efforts of Jon’s group, NIH has just issued a new request for information (RFI) seeking your:

  • Input on key issues that currently limit the impact of NIH’s funding for biomedical research and challenge the sustainability of the scientific enterprise.
  • Ideas about adjusting current funding policies to ensure both continued impact and sustainability of the NIH research enterprise. 
  • Ideas for new policies, strategies and other approaches that would increase the impact and sustainability of NIH-funded biomedical research.
  • Comments on any other issues that you feel are relevant.

While we read and consider comments responding to our blog posts, in order to make your input part of our formal analysis of RFI responses, it needs to be submitted via the RFI by May 17.

Improved Success Rate and Other Funding Trends in Fiscal Year 2014

The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 Exit icon, provides funding for the Federal Government through September 30. NIGMS has a Fiscal Year 2015 appropriation of $2.372 billion, which is $13 million, or 0.5%, higher than it was in Fiscal Year 2014.

As I explained in an earlier post, we made a number of adjustments to our portfolio and funding policies last fiscal year in order to bolster our support for investigator-initiated research. Partly because of these changes, the success rate for research project grants (RPGs)—which are primarily R01s—was 25 percent in Fiscal Year 2014. This is 5 percentage points higher than it was in Fiscal Year 2013. Had we not made the funding policy changes, we predicted that the success rate would have remained flat at 20 percent.

Figure 1 shows the number of RPG applications we received and funded, as well as the corresponding success rates, for Fiscal Years 2002-2014.

Figure 1. Number of competing RPG applications assigned to NIGMS (blue line with diamonds, left axis) and number funded (red line with squares, left axis) for Fiscal Years 2002-2014. The success rate (number of applications funded divided by the total number of applications) is shown in the green line with triangles, right axis. Data: Tony Moore.
Figure 1. Number of competing RPG applications assigned to NIGMS (blue line with diamonds, left axis) and number funded (red line with squares, left axis) for Fiscal Years 2002-2014. The success rate (number of applications funded divided by the total number of applications) is shown in the green line with triangles, right axis. Data: Tony Moore.

Moving forward, it will be important to employ strategies that will enable us to at least maintain this success rate. In keeping with this goal, we recently released a financial management plan (no longer available) that continues many of the funding policies we instituted last year. As funds from the retirement of the Protein Structure Initiative come back into the investigator-initiated RPG pool, we’ll be working to ensure that they support a sustained improvement in success rate rather than create a 1-year spike followed by a return to lower rates.

Figures 2 and 3 show data for funding versus the percentile scores of the R01 applications we received. People frequently ask me what NIGMS’ percentile cutoff or “payline” is, but it should be clear from these figures that we do not use a strict percentile score criterion for making funding decisions. Rather, we take a variety of factors into account in addition to the score, including the amount of other support already available to the researcher; the priority of the research area for the Institute’s mission; and the importance of maintaining a broad and diverse portfolio of research topics, approaches and investigators.

Figure 2. Percentage of competing R01 applications funded by NIGMS as a function of percentile scores for Fiscal Years 2010-2014. For Fiscal Year 2014, the success rate for R01 applications was 25.7 percent, and the midpoint of the funding curve was at approximately the 22nd percentile. Data: Jim Deatherage.
Figure 2. Percentage of competing R01 applications funded by NIGMS as a function of percentile scores for Fiscal Years 2010-2014. For Fiscal Year 2014, the success rate for R01 applications was 25.7 percent, and the midpoint of the funding curve was at approximately the 22nd percentile. See more details about the data analysis for Figure 2. Data: Jim Deatherage.
Figure 3. Number of competing R01 applications (solid black bars) assigned to NIGMS and number funded (striped red bars) in Fiscal Year 2014 as a function of percentile scores. Data: Jim Deatherage.
Figure 3. Number of competing R01 applications (solid black bars) assigned to NIGMS and number funded (striped red bars) in Fiscal Year 2014 as a function of percentile scores. See more details about the data analysis for Figure 3. Data: Jim Deatherage.

It’s too early to say what the success rate will be for Fiscal Year 2015 because it can be influenced by a number of factors, as I described last year. However, we’re hopeful that by continuing to adjust our priorities and policies to focus on supporting a broad and diverse portfolio of investigators, we can reverse the trend of falling success rates seen in recent years.

Give Input on Proposed Center for Research Capacity Building

At our recent Advisory Council meeting, I announced that we are proposing the establishment of a new organizational unit in NIGMS: the Center for Research Capacity Building (CRCB). As the name implies, it would serve as the hub for our capacity-building programs, which include the Institutional Development Award (IDeA), Support of Competitive Research (SCORE) and Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH). These programs are now housed in a branch of our Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity.

Among the factors that contributed to this plan are the complexity of our capacity-building programs and the broad range of scientific areas and grant mechanisms they support. We believe that the new organizational structure would allow for more efficient planning, coordination and execution among these programs’ research, research training and research resource access activities.

The head of the new center would report directly to me and be part of the Institute’s senior leadership. Beyond that change, we do not plan to alter the missions, goals, staff or budgets of the IDeA, SCORE and NARCH programs as a result of the reorganization. Also remaining the same would be the review of applications and most grants management and review staff assignments.

We invite your input to inform our planning. Please post your comments by February 18, 2015.

Update: Thank you for your valuable input on this organizational change. A post announcing the establishment of the center is at http://loop.nigms.nih.gov/2015/05/establishment-of-our-center-for-research-capacity-building/

Judith Greenberg Named Deputy Director of NIGMS

Photo of Dr. Judith GreenbergI’m delighted to tell you that Judith Greenberg is NIGMS’ new deputy director.

Judith has been a vital member of the NIGMS leadership team for many years, including serving as acting director for two extended periods, as acting deputy director since shortly after I arrived and as director of our Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology since 1988. Her many significant contributions have included leading the development of two strategic plans, spearheading the establishment of important new policies and streamlining a number of internal processes.

Judith has a long record of outstanding leadership and dedication to NIGMS and NIH, and we can all look forward to continuing to benefit from her wisdom, expertise and perspective.