Created by on 12/20/2010


The Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) of NIH held its 101st meeting on December 9, 2010. Francis Collins opened the meeting with a review of several legislative, legal, and policy issues affecting the agency. Dr. Collins discussed the outlook for NIH in the FY 2011 budget; ongoing legal proceedings related to federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research and the ability to patent genes; the formation of a Presidential commission to review human subjects protection regulations; and the Scientific Management Review Board recommendations to create a new translational research center, create a new substance use, abuse, and addiction institute, and open up the NIH Clinical Center to the extramural community.
Following Dr. Collins’ report, the ACD received an update on the Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases (TRND) program. TRND was created in 2009 to lower the barriers to developing drugs for diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. by stimulating research collaborations between academic scientists and the NIH. Since the program’s inception, TRND has conducted a number of pilot projects, and a broad research solicitation was published earlier this year. The first applications in response to that solicitation are due in December.
Dr. Sally Rockey, Deputy Director for Extramural Research, updated the ACD on the implementation of the changes to the NIH peer review system. In keeping with NIH's goal to “continuously review peer review,” NIH conducted a series of surveys to solicit input on the new nine-point scoring system, rating criteria, and critique templates, among other issues. A detailed survey report is expected to be released this month.
The ACD also approved the creation of a new biomedical research workforce working group that will be chaired by Dr. Shirley Tilghman, President of Princeton University. The charge to the working group is to develop a model for a sustainable and diverse U.S. biomedical research workforce that can inform decisions about training the optimal number of people for the appropriate types of positions that will advance science and promote health. In another workforce-related development, the ACD announced the creation of the Lasker Clinical Research Scholars program. A partnership with the Lasker Foundation, the program combines a five to seven year period of independent research as a principal investigator in the NIH intramural research program with the opportunity for additional years of independent financial support either at the NIH or at an extramural research institution. NIH sees the program as a way to recruit more clinical researchers to the NIH intramural program and hopes to attract up to five scholars this year.
The last item of business during the public portion of the meeting was the approval of several new stem cell lines, a sign that NIH is pushing ahead with its support of hESC research even though the legal battle continues (see previous story in this newsletter).