New Program Announcements for Biomedical Technology Research Resources

I would like to call your attention to two program announcements recently published in the NIH Guide:

These announcements provide updated instructions for both pre-applications and full applications for Biomedical Technology Research Resource (BTRR) grants. The BTRR program supports development and dissemination of advanced technologies that enable biomedical research The BTRR centers create a wide range of technologies and work with thousands of NIH-supported investigators each year.

The X02 pre-application is strongly recommended. The pre-application provides an opportunity for prospective applicants to receive feedback from both peer reviewers and NIGMS program staff as they formulate their plans for a complex, lengthy proposal for a P41 grant.

Following an evaluation in 2016, we have revised the BTRR program, while preserving the fundamental mission of developing and providing access to advanced technologies. Susan Gregurick, director of our Biomedical Technology, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology Division, presented on the evaluation and proposed program changes at the September 2016 NIGMS Advisory Council meeting.

Revisions to the program have changed the structure of a BTRR to give the investigators who run the centers more flexibility in how technologies are shared with the community. A new feature, “Technology Development Partnerships,” will enable centers to rapidly adopt and incorporate emerging technologies developed elsewhere that advance a BTRR’s overall mission, rather than focus entirely on technologies developed “in-house.”

The program also will provide investigators with greater flexibility to tailor a center’s approach to technology innovation, user access and training, and dissemination according to the specific technologies being developed and communities being served. At the same time, the program will place a greater emphasis on actively moving technologies out of the BTRR and into the wider community as quickly as possible. We anticipate that most BTRR centers will not be funded beyond three cycles (15 years), and we will require investigators involved with this program to formulate a sustainability plan for their research resources.

The submission date for the first round of X02 pre-applications is August 15, 2017. Future submission dates will follow a regular schedule, occurring twice per year in March and July. That timing allows nine months from submission of the X02 until the anticipated submission of a resulting full application in January or May, respectively.

The next submission date for full applications for a P41 BTRR is September 25, 2017. This is the only submission date for funding in Fiscal Year 2018. In future years, applications will be accepted twice per year, in January and May, with no September submission. To improve consistency in the review of competing applications, the NIH Center for Scientific Review will convene a special study section to review all NIGMS P41 BTRR applications together. There will be no site visits.

NIGMS also supports technology development through several other programs. 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 specific stages of technology development.

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

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.

Give Input on the Support of Biomedical Research Resources

NIGMS is considering how best to support two important activities: the development of biomedical technologies and access to those technologies as they become research resources. These topics are closely related, but there are aspects of each that should be explored independently.

Last summer, the Institute issued a request for information (RFI) on the support of biomedical technology development. The responses we received contributed significantly to initiatives for exploratory and focused technology development to be launched later this year. We now request your input in response to a new RFI on the need for and support of research resources (NOT-GM-16-103).

We’d like to know your thoughts on a number of topics, including:

  • The appropriateness and usefulness of existing research resources to the biomedical research community.
  • Examples of unmet needs for research resources.
  • The relative value of resources that serve many investigators versus specialized resources used by fewer investigators.
  • The value and manner of coupling technology development to research resources.
  • The review of research resource applications and the evaluation of funded projects.
  • The role of academia, other biomedical institutions and industry in developing and providing access to research resources.
  • The role of investigators and user fees in supporting institutional, regional and national resources.
  • The role of NIGMS in supporting research resources and technology development at various levels.

We also welcome any other comments that you feel are relevant to supporting research resources.

To respond to this RFI, send an email to nigmsresource@mail.nih.gov by June 3, 2016.

If you have any questions about the RFI, please let us know.

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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NIH Common Fund Glycoscience Program Seeks Fresh Approaches for Developing Tools and Technologies

As we enter the second year of the NIH Common Fund Glycoscience program to develop accessible tools for carbohydrate research, we encourage those who are new to carbohydrate chemistry and biology to bring their fresh perspectives to bear on difficult challenges in this field by applying through one of the following funding opportunity announcements (FOAs). While we continue to welcome applications from carbohydrate scientists, we hope to see new ideas from synthetic chemists and technology developers from other fields. Our goal is to enable researchers in all biomedical fields to study the roles of carbohydrates in health and disease, so approaches from outside the established glycoscience community are of particular interest.

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Requesting Input on the Support of Biomedical Technology Development

NIGMS is in the process of considering how best to support two important activities: the development of biomedical technologies and access to those technologies as they become research resources. These topics are strongly related, but there are aspects of each that should be explored independently. An important part of this process is getting input from the community, so we’ve issued a request for information (RFI) focused on technology development. A subsequent RFI will extend the discussion to the support of research resources.

There are two main issues that we’re thinking hard about right now as we consider how our technology development programs should be structured:

  • The relationship between technology development and question-based biomedical research. We’re particularly interested in whether and how technology development and question-driven research should be coupled in different circumstances. Coupling technology development with addressing biomedical research problems can help ensure the relevance of the tools that emerge, but it may not always be necessary or appropriate.
  • Supporting the full range of biomedical technology development. We’re interested in the effective support of all aspects of technology development, from the exploration of emerging concepts to the conversion of fragile technologies into standard tools.

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Comment on the Need for Support of Membrane Protein Structure Determination

Membrane proteins and large macromolecular assemblies are important targets for understanding cell function and for drug discovery, but their characterization presents unique technical challenges. We’re considering how best to help researchers meet these challenges.

To give the biomedical research community the opportunity to offer comments on this topic, we have just issued a request for information (RFI). We want your opinion on the most effective methods for the determination of membrane protein and large macromolecular assembly structures and/or the need for new tools to aid in structure determination of these proteins or protein complexes.

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NIH Data Science Leader’s Vision of a Digital Enterprise for Biomedical Research

Phil BourneI recently had the opportunity to talk to Phil Bourne, NIH’s associate director for data science, about some of the current Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative activities. I asked him how they tie together his vision of a digital enterprise for biomedical research and how they might benefit NIGMS grantees.

Phil explained that the goal of his office, commonly referred to as ADDS, is to achieve efficiencies in biomedical research, such as by making it easier for researchers to locate and manipulate data and software. “If we could just achieve a 5 percent improvement in efficiency in research that would be, in NIH budget dollars, more than $150 million a year that could be spent on funding more people and doing more research,” he said.

An active area that we at NIGMS are engaged in with ADDS is sustaining biomedical data resources, of which we support a fair number. As someone who previously set up databases and who now oversees them, I’m very passionate about this topic. A key question is how to sustain support of data resources in the current research budget environment. Led by Phil’s team, NIH has issued a request for information on sustaining biomedical data repositories that seeks input on every aspect of maintaining these resources. I encourage you to share your ideas by the March 18 response date.

Training is important in Phil’s vision for a digital enterprise, too. He told me of a number of recent training activities at NIH, including a “software carpentry” workshop for experimental researchers to learn how to use a wide variety of analysis tools. In a blog post about this and another event, the ADDS office asks for suggestions on other types of data science courses to offer. They want to provide workshops that train more experimentally versed scientists to work with big data and take those skills back to their labs. In addition, the ADDS office is planning to stand up a workforce development center to catalog classroom and online courses in the data sciences.

Another effort that’s in the works is creating a virtual space called the Commons where researchers can share, locate, utilize and cite datasets, software, standards definitions and documentation. Phil anticipates that the first components of the Commons will be available in 2016.

I’m really excited about Phil’s efforts and believe that they will help drive the “data quantum leap” I described in my first Feedback Loop blog post.