Washington Update

Updates on NIH Next Generation Researchers Initiative and Plans for 2021-2025 Agency-wide Strategic Plan

By: Yvette Seger
Thursday, December 19, 2019

For the first time since approving its final report in December 2018, members of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) received an update on the agency’s progress towards implementing the recommendations of the Next Generation Researchers Initiative Working Group. Established in June 2017, the working group was charged with advising the ACD and NIH Director on policies, programs, and other activities to foster the retention of Early-Stage Investigators (ESIs) in the biomedical research workforce.

In the update presented during last week’s ACD meeting, Michael Lauer, MD, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, highlighted progress towards the group’s recommendations. Lauer reported that the agency has exceeded its initial goal of funding 1,100 ESIs per year, with 1,287 and 1,316 funded in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019, respectively. NIH is also actively pursuing strategies to retain trainees through critical career and life junctions, such as increasing the base stipend for postdoctoral scholars funded through National Research Service Awards to $52,700 in FY 2020. Policies will be implemented to extend ESI status and eligibility for Pathway to Independence Awards (K99/R00) to accommodate life events.

Dr. Lauer also reviewed plans for a new R01 award specifically for ESIs. Named in memory of Stephen I. Katz, MD, PhD, long-time Director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the new award would provide ESI investigators with five years of support to pursue new lines of research inquiry. To foster independence and creativity, applicants will not be allowed to submit preliminary data. The agency also plans to expand the Loan Repayment Program to increase the breadth of science and scientists supported.

ACD members were updated on plans for an agency-wide strategic plan for FY 2021–2025. Mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act, the plan is intended to articulate the highest priorities for the agency, present a high-level plan for achieving these priorities, and provide an update on accomplishments under the prior plan and new trans-NIH initiatives.

The updated plan will focus on three objectives: advancing biomedical and behavioral sciences; developing, maintaining, and renewing scientific research capacity; and exemplifying and promoting the highest level of scientific integrity, public accountability, and social responsibility in the conduct of science. Over the next few months, NIH will continue to develop the FY 2021–2025 strategic plan, including seeking input from the public and ACD before issuing the final update to Congress in December 2020.