Washington Update

NIH Previews Updates to Peer Review and New Working Groups

By: Yvette Seger
Thursday, November 10, 2022
On November 3, the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) convened for a brief meeting to preview three topics—a proposed new framework for peer review criteria and the establishment of two new working groups—for which there will be in-depth discussion during its next convening in December.

Noni Byrnes, PhD, Director of NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR), provided an overview of work initiated by the CSR Advisory Committee in 2020 to update the review criteria to emphasize the role of study section review in assessing scientific merit of proposals while reducing bias and administrative burden. In April 2021, the CSR Advisory Committee issued its final recommendations to achieve these goals, which included reorganizing the currently five scored review criteria into three factors: Importance of the Science (currently Significance and Innovation); Feasibility and Rigor (currently Approach); and Expertise and Resources (currently two separate categories, Investigator and Environment). These recommendations have since undergone internal review and further refinement by a Trans-NIH Extramural Activities Working Group to ensure the proposed new framework addresses bias. In addition to reducing the review framework from five criteria to three, the working group proposed limiting scoring to the first two factors and not scoring the third category assessing expertise and resources, instead using a drop-down menu to indicate “appropriate” or “gaps identified,” with the latter requiring explicit description if selected.

In addition to a more in-depth discussion of the proposed changes in December, CSR plans to seek stakeholder input on the revised framework via a Request for Information that will be issued this winter.

ACD members also received previews of two new working groups that will be launched in conjunction with the December meeting. The Re-envisioning NIH-Supported Postdoctoral Training Working Group will evaluate the recent decline in postdoctoral scholars in the U.S., assess and consider factors influencing this decline, review and compare other approaches to postdoctoral training, and consider ways to support postdocs’ quality of life and work-life balance. This working group will be co-chaired by Shelley Berger, PhD, ACD member from the University of Pennsylvania, and Tara Schwetz, PhD, Acting Principal Deputy Director at NIH.

The second new working group will explore ways to catalyze the development and use of alternative methods to advance biomedical research. Co-chaired by Howard Chang, MD, PhD, ACD member from Stanford University, and Lyric Jorgenson, PhD, Acting NIH Associate Director for Science Policy and Acting Director of the NIH Office of Science Policy, this group will identify high-priority areas for NIH investment in the use and development of novel alternative methods to advance understanding of specific biological processes or states and augment, complement, and possibly replace existing models.

Both working groups are in the early stages of developing more detailed charges and recruiting members. More refined proposals for both areas will be presented to the ACD during its next full meeting on December 8-9.