Washington Update

NIH Advisory Committee to the Director Convenes 125th Meeting

By: Grace Steward, Jacqueline Robinson-Hamm, and Naomi Charalambakis
Wednesday, December 21, 2022
On December 8-9, National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) convened its 125th meeting. Responsible for providing advice on matters related to NIH’s support of biomedical research, the December meeting involved discussions on a broad range of science policy topics, including peer review, animal research, and the biomedical workforce.

Larry Tabak, DDS, PhD, performing the duties of NIH director, shared high-level updates on NIH’s current initiatives, including the agency’s efforts to fund early-stage investigators (ESIs). Tabak noted that each year, NIH strives to fund 1,100 ESIs on their first R01 or equivalent grant. In 2022, NIH surpassed this goal, funding a record 1,589 ESI applicants.

Noni Byrnes, PhD, Director of the Center for Scientific Review (CSR), presented proposed changes to NIH peer review criteria for both research project grants (RPG) and Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) fellowships.  Although the proposed RPG Peer Review process was previously covered during the ad-hoc ACD meeting in November, this month’s presentation was accompanied by a 90-day Request for Information (RFI) seeking broader community input on the simplified review framework. The framework aims to relieve administrative burden on reviewers by refocusing the process on scientific merit. The changes also seek to lessen the effect of reputational bias associated with institutions and primary investigators.

Byrnes also introduced modifications to the NRSA Fellowship Peer Review process derived from the recently published final report of the NRSA Fellowship Review Working Group, similar to previously presented final recommendations that were covered at the September CSR advisory council meeting. A trans-NIH committee is currently refining the proposal and an RFI is planned for release in late February 2023.

Following the peer review discussion, ACD members discussed the new working group focused on novel alternative methods, “Catalyzing the Development and Use of Alternative Methods to Advance Biomedical Research.” The working group aims to identify nonanimal methods and technologies used in biomedical research, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and determine which areas merit further NIH investment. Co-chairs of the working group emphasized the agency’s recognition that these methods serve to complement ongoing research with animals. The working group roster, comprised of 13 members, includes four FASEB-recommended nominees: Szczepan Baran, VMD (2022 FASEB congressional briefing speaker); Antonio Baines, PhD (SOT member); Myrtle Davis, DVM, PhD (SOT member); and Nancy Lane, MD (ASBMR member). The working group plans to issue draft recommendations in June.

The Re-envisioning NIH-Supported Postdoctoral Training Working Group co-chairs provided background on the impetus for the working group. Primarily, a perceived decline in PhDs pursuing postdoctoral research positions, which is a multifaceted problem. ACD members engaged in data pertaining to overall postdoc numbers, international graduate students and postdocs, F32 applications and awards, and benchmarking academic stipends with salaries available elsewhere. An RFI to solicit stakeholder engagement is expected to be issued in early 2023.

The next ACD meeting is scheduled for June 2023, when members anticipate hearing updates and next steps for each of these topics.