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NIGMS Analyzes RFI Response on Modernizing Biomedical Graduate Education

On November 2, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shared its analysis of the input it received from the scientific community in response to a June 2016 request for information (RFI) (NOT-GM-16-109) on how to “catalyze the modernization of biomedical graduate education through NIGMS’s institutional predoctoral training program.” According to NIGMS, the comments received addressed 28 themes and fell into five categories: institutional and training-related issues, skills development, systemic issues within the research enterprise, careers, and administrative and review issues. The feedback around the issue of diversity and the role of institutional climate, one of the themes, included concern regarding the lack of diversity and the fact that it “…continues to be an alarming problem in biomedical research. Given our changing demographics, this is no longer a ‘minority problem,’ but rather a national emergency.” Another theme cited was the “strong support for interdisciplinary training in Ph.D. programs.” Additional details about the analysis can be found in the report.

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Posted in Issue 22 (November 15), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

NIGMS/NRMN Announces New Web-Based Platform for Mentoring; Highlights Special Journal Issue on Broadening Participation

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced the launch of MyNRMN, part of the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN). NIGMS manages NRMN for the NIH’s Common Fund Diversity Program Consortium, which in addition to the NRMN includes the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) initiative and the Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC). In a recent NIGMS Feedback Loop blog post announcing MyNRMN, NIGMS staff explained that the new web-based platform is intended to help researchers and students connect professionally and is “designed for scientists at every level.” Additionally, it can be used as a “complementary networking tool” to NRMN’s established Guided Virtual Mentoring Program.
The blog post also highlighted the September 1 special issue of CBE-Life Sciences Education, “Broadening Participation in the Life Sciences.” Eleven of the 35 features, editorials, essays and articles are authored by NIGMS leadership, staff and grantees. Additionally, NIH Chief Diversity Officer Hannah Valantine, in collaboration with the Institute’s staff, describes plans to “integrate and coordinate efforts across NIH to catalyze enhancements in biomedical research workforce diversity.” The issue also includes a contribution, From the NSF: The National Science Foundation’s Investments in Broadening Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education through Research and Capacity Building, which discusses the agency’s investment in broadening participation.
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Posted in Issue 19 (October 4), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

NIGMS Director Updates Council on Second Phase of MIRA Pilot

During the September 16 meeting of the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council, National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Director Jon Lorsch provided an update on the second phase of a two-part pilot program for funding research supported by the Institute. The goal of the Maximizing Investigator’s Research Award (MIRA) for New and Early Stage Investigators (R35) pilot is to “increase the efficiency and efficacy of NIGMS funding.” Lorsch defined new investigators as individuals who have not had a major NIH grant, and early stage investigators (ESI) as individuals within 10 years of their terminal degree, research, or medical residency. Of the 320 applications reviewed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NIGMS will make a total of 94 awards, a success rate of 29.4 percent compared to the 19.6 percent NIH-wide success rate.
Acknowledging concerns of the Council and others regarding the review process, which is focused on the individual’s track record and therefore could potentially “exacerbate bias in the application, review, or funding decision processes,” Lorsch noted that they did not observe “any significant differences in gender, race, or ethnicity between the applicants and the awardees.” In fact, one unexpected outcome of the competition was that individuals receiving MIRA funding were 1.5 years younger on average than individuals in the unsuccessful applicant pool; MIRA awardees, on average, are two years younger than last year’s early stage investigator awardees.
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Posted in Issue 19 (October 4), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

NIGMS Seeks Input on “Strategies for Modernizing Biomedical Graduate Education”

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has issued a Request for Information (RFI): Strategies for Modernizing Biomedical Graduate Education (NOT-GM-16-109) seeking the input of the scientific community and the general public “on how to catalyze the modernization of biomedical graduate education through NIGMS’s institutional predoctoral training grants program.” The Institute would like to receive input on such topics addressing changes that assure that future researchers have the knowledge, skills and abilities to navigate biomedical research; major barriers to pursuing this training through NIGMS training programs; and the key skills needed by individuals to “become outstanding biomedical scientists,” along with any topic individuals feel are important for the institute to consider. Responses to the RFI are due August 5, 2016.

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Posted in Issue 12 (June 14), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

NIGMS Solicits Input on Approaches for Supporting Team Science

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is seeking input “on team-based scientific research and the manner in which this activity could be supported by the Institute.” Accordingly, NIGMS has issued a request for information (RFI), Approaches for Supporting Team Science in the Biomedical Research Community (NOT-GM-16-107), to assist it in “considering needs and opportunities in team science at the multi-investigator, institutional, regional, and national level.” The Institute plans to examine the “benefits and challenges of team science and is considering how to best support this mode of scientific research.” The RFI notes that team science allows for a level of collaboration that “would not be attainable either by an individual or simply additive efforts of two or more scientists.”

The Institute is interested in comments on the following topics: interest in team science, management and advisory structures in team science, team composition, resources and infrastructure, assessment of team science, and comments on past or current NIGMS team-based programs and funding mechanisms, among others. Comments are due June 17, 2016.

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Posted in Issue 11 (May 31), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

NIGMS Releases 2015-2020 Strategic Plan

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) recently released its 2015 -2020 strategic plan.  According to NIGMS director Jon Lorsch, the plan outlines the Institute’s priorities and activities, including “the goals, objectives and implementation strategies that the Institute—in partnership with the scientific community at universities, professional societies and other federal agencies—will engage in over the next five years.”  Additionally, the plan provides “snapshots” of specific institute priorities and achievements.

In his director’s message, Lorsch emphasizes that the Institute continues to place “great emphasis on supporting investigator-initiated research grants” and highlights NIGMS emphasis on “the critical importance of rigor, reproducibility and transparency in all biomedical pursuits.” He also underscores the Institute’s research training programs which recognize “the interdisciplinary nature of biomedical research… [and] emphasize experiences that cut across fields of inquiry.”  This includes the recognition of “a compelling need to promote diversity in the biomedical research workforce.” Lorsch further emphasizes that NIGMS is “committed to galvanizing efforts to diversify the workforce by recruiting talented researchers from all groups and supporting quality educational and training environments in a wide variety of scientific areas.”

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Posted in Issue 5 (March 24), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

NIH Council of Councils Discusses Stable Support for Investigators

At the September meeting of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Council of Councils, NIH Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak provided an update of the agency’s activities, including an update on the agency’s efforts to pilot “longer-term, stable support” for NIH investigators. (more…)

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Posted in Issue 18 (October 6), Update, Volume 33 (2014)

NIGMS Advisory Council Approves New Grant Mechanism, Discusses Reproducibility

At the September meeting of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Advisory Council, director Jon Lorsch provided an update on a number of issues, including the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) data reproducibility efforts, the NIGMS strategic planning process, and an overview of the impacts of the previous NIH budget-doubling period “on the biomedical research ecosystem.” In addition, the Council approved the Institute’s concept clearance to create the new Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA), clearing the way for NIGMS to proceed.

Reproducibility

Lorsch noted that reproducibility is not a single issue but an issue of reproducibility of data, generalizability of conclusions, and the correctness and strength of the conclusions. According to the director, NIGMS has been leading the NIH effort around “exportable” training in this area. That effort includes training modules that will be available online, widely accessible, and free for use by any program. The topics of the modules will be in a wide range of areas and include the spectrum of issues that might impact the general area of reproducibility. Noting that the funding opportunity announcement, Training Modules to Enhance Data ReproducibilityRFA-GM-15-006, had been released, Lorsch reported that nine of the 27 NIH institutes and centers signed on and are funding additional training modules (see Update, September 8, 2014). The additional funding will allow the NIH to support up to 21 awards.

NIH Budget at a Crossroads

Pointing out that the doubling of the NIH budget, which ended a decade ago, dramatically changed the NIH ecosystem, Lorsch emphasized that the system has not recalibrated. Prior to the doubling of the NIH’s budget, the paylines were better than they are today, he stated, and emphasized the resulting paradigm shift where there are more investigators that are fully supported by the NIH. The problem is the way that science has been funded and the changes that have occurred over the past couple of decades, he explained.

According to Lorsch, the NIH could continue on the path it has been on the last few years and hope that things begin to work again. Or it could make a major course correction and seek more optimal ways of doing things. To this end, NIGMS is beginning to seek “new and more effective paths” to advance its mission. Affecting the Institute’s ability to do this is the issue of how to fund biomedical research, Lorsch explained. He pointed out that currently the primary way that the NIH funds research is by funding specific projects where it asks investigators to predict four years into the future what they will do and “define it in very precise ways.” In his view, this leads to inefficiencies which affect the ability to make progress and does not reflect the way science really works. NIGMS would like to give researchers more freedom from those restraints, which Lorsch believes will lead to better science in the end. Currently, the system also allows people to submit as many grant applications as they want and consequently spend a significant amount of their time writing new grant applications. Several of the institutes are developing similar awards (see related story).

Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA)

It is these two issues the NIGMS would like to address and which led it to propose MIRA. The program’s goal is to enhance the willingness to take on scientifically ambitious problems, which the current funding system with its project-based emphasis discourages, causing people to become more conservative. NIGMS, Lorsch explained, would like to increase the availability and flexibility of investigators to go in other directions as the opportunities may arise. In addition, NIGMS would like to reduce the writing of grant applications. The feedback from the Institute’s request for information (RFI) was robust and the Institute received “many good ideas” for improvement, he noted.

As proposed, MIRA would be a single award in support of all NIGMS-relevant research in an investigator’s lab and would preclude receipt of other NIGMS funding except for research resources, training, workforce development, diversity building, clinical trials, SBIR/STTRs, and conference grants. The award would be a five-year renewable award that is longer and larger than NIGMS’ current average investigator-initiated (R01) award. Investigators would be expected to commit at least 50 percent research effort, excluding teaching, clinical, and administrative duties. Revision applications, however, to allow new collaborative work would be allowed. The Institute expects that in most cases renewal applications will be funded at the same level or with an increase or decrease, rather than an abrupt termination. NIGMS also expects that success rates will be higher than for R01 applications because fewer applications will be submitted per investigator.

The MIRA concept clearance was approved by the Council. For established principal investigators, it would provide $40 million in direct costs and $60 million in total costs. NIGMS could fund up to 100 awards with an average cost of approximately $400,000 in direct costs each. This assumes that all eligible established PIs compete and all of their current funding is reprogrammed to MIRA. For Early Stage Investigators (ESIs), NIGMS support for MIRA would cost $17 million in direct costs and $26 million in total costs, funding up to 75 awards at an average cost each of $250,000 in direct costs. Similarly, this assumes that all R01 funds awarded to ESIs are reprogrammed as MIRA awards.

In implementing MIRA, the Institute’s goal is to generate a “moderate” number of applications to test the application and review concepts. The pilot phase, with limited eligibility, is expected to have a neutral impact on NIGMS’ research project grant budget. The Institute plans to have separate funding opportunity announcements, review panels, and review criteria for established PIs and ESIs. The applications will be reviewed by special emphasis panels organized by NIGMS’ Office of Scientific Review. The award of MIRA will coincide with relinquishment of current NIGMS support.

New NIGMS Strategic Plan

The other overarching area that the Institute is focusing on is its general strategic direction. Accordingly, NIGMS is undergoing a strategic planning process. While the RFI seeking the extramural community’s input closed on September 26, Lorsch announced that a stakeholders meeting for professional societies associated with NIGMS is being planned for October 15th. Additional information about the process is available on NIGMS’ website.

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Posted in Issue 18 (October 6), Update, Volume 33 (2014)

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