Washington Update

NASEM Report: Infrastructure and Policy Changes Needed to Ensure Viability of Biomedical Research System

By: Elizabeth Barksdale
Thursday, April 26, 2018

On April 12, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released a consensus report, “The Next Generation of Biomedical and Behavioral Researchers: Breaking Through.” Issued by the ad hoc Committee on the Next Generation Initiative, the report culminates a year-plus of public meetings and private deliberations, wide-reaching data collection, and comments gathered through a Dear Colleague Letter.

“Breaking Through” has its roots in two pieces of 2016 Congressional legislation: the Consolidated Appropriations Act and the 21st Century Cures Act. The former directed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to work with NASEM to produce a report on the challenges faced by the next generation of researchers in launching and sustaining independent research careers. The latter called on the NIH Director to take report recommendations into account in devising new policies to support early career researchers.

With the eyes of Congress and the biomedical research community upon them, the committee set out to do what many who came before them had not: create workable recommendations that could elicit real change in young investigators’ career outcomes.

“Breaking Through” addresses many players in the complex biomedical ecosystem, including Congress, national funding agencies, research institutions, and principle investigators (PIs)—an acknowledgement that the barriers to independence early career researchers face were not created and won’t be solved in isolation.

Some of the recommendations are not new: increasing postdoctoral researchers’ starting salaries; collecting and disseminating outcomes data for all biomedical pre- and postdoctoral researchers; creating alternative research career tracks beyond tenure track faculty; and providing every postdoctoral researcher with high-quality training experiences, regardless of funding source.

Others, however, are quite creative:

  • NIH should phase in a three-year limit on postdoc salary support from NIH research grants;
  • NIH should increase five-fold the number of individual fellowship (F-type) and career development (K-type) awards, and set the indirect recovery cost rate at 16 percent (currently 8 percent);
  • Institutions should charge PIs a $1000 annual fee for each postdoc supported on a research grant and use that money to support training activities; and
  • Congress should establish a Biomedical Research Enterprise Council to “serve as a consultative forum for analyzing and addressing issues confronting the biomedical workforce . . . monitoring implementation and assessing the impact of the recommendations” in the report.

In addition, the committee explicitly calls on Congress to increase the NIH budget in order to specifically implement report recommendations and to sustain the Next Generation Researchers Initiative.

An accompanying NASEM report on the future of graduate STEM education will be released May 29