Created by on 6/19/2012 12:00:00 AM

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) met by conference call on May 27th. Meeting materials and the agenda can be found here. Among the highlights of the call were updates by NIH Director Francis Collins, MD/PhD on the implementation of SMRB recommendations on the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and the NIH Clinical Center, a status report on the Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) review by SMRB Member Sol Snyder, and a description of a new project by SMRB Chair Norman Augustine.
SMRB members expressed appreciation for the progress that has been made in establishing NCATS. There were some references to the initial criticisms about how it was created, but the feeling among members was that support is growing as the community learns more about the new center. Dr. Collins stated that the Cures Acceleration Network, a project within NCATS, is underfunded, and said he wants to scale it up. He also noted that new requests for applications will be released shortly on 1) the Therapeutics Discovery Program to re-purpose drugs shown not to be harmful in humans; and 2) the new round of competition for Clinical and Translational Science Awards.
Of the three major recommendations detailed in the SMRB report on the Clinical Center, two were in the process of being implemented. First, the NIH has installed a Clinical Center Governing Board to provide strategic and operational oversight as well as budget recommendations. Second, the Clinical Center-Extramural Collaborations Committee has been formed and charged with developing a Funding Opportunity Announcement that promotes intramural-extramural collaboration. With regard to the third recommendation, moving the Clinical Center out of the intramural budget, Dr. Collins stated that they are still considering the technical issues related to the statutory differentiation of intramural and extramural funds.
Sol Snyder reported on the activities of a group reviewing the NIH SBIR/STTR program. Since the SBIR/STTR program has been judged to be “a success,” he initially inquired why he was being asked to chair a review of it. He was informed that the charge to the committee was to “take something good and improve it.” Dr. Snyder noted that he was told that there is a large amount of funding at stake, and the SBIR population (small business) does not have the same level of experience working with NIH that is commonly found within the academic community. In their initial work, the committee looked at how each of the institutes/centers (IC) handles the program and found a lot of diversity. As they continue to examine the SBIR program this summer, the committee will collect information from:
  • NIH IC Directors and SBIR staff
  • The Small Business Administration
  • Representatives of small businesses
  • NIH SBIR grantees
  • Representatives of the venture capital community and
  • Academic inventors
The committee chairman also stated that, thus far, the review effort has found that the SBIR/STTR programs are doing what they are supposed to do, meeting their statutory objectives, and are being managed flexibly across the NIH ICs. A series of recommendations are under consideration including:
  • Reliable metrics for SBIR/STTR and tracking success
  • Expedited and streamlined application process
  • Enhanced peer review and the criteria by which applications are evaluated
  • Expanded outreach and consideration of the most effective approaches
Snyder noted that the small business community claims that many SBIR reviews are inappropriately conducted, that many of the applications are reviewed as if they were R01 grants, and that the turnaround time for SBIR reviews, while similar to that for other grants, may be too long for small businesses. The committee will continue its consultation with stakeholders, hosting a public meeting on July 1, 2012 and another hearing in October.
SMRB Chair Norman Augustine then described a plan to undertake a new project to assess the value of the investment in biomedical research, a task that is consistent with the board’s statutory mandate. Augustine and Dr. Collins agreed that better analytic methods were needed along with more appropriate metrics to measure the value quantitatively, including the economic benefits of biomedical research.