The National Institutes of Health released its fiscal 2016 – 2020 strategic plan last week ─ the first such plan produced in 20 years. This plan was developed at the request of the U.S. Congress and outlines a common approach for setting priorities across all of NIH’s institutes and centers. The strategic plan describes four objectives to guide the efforts of the NIH for the next five years:
- Advance opportunities in biomedical research
- Set priorities
- Enhance stewardship
- Excel as a federal science agency by managing for results
In order to advance opportunities in biomedical research, the NIH proposes a balanced approach. It intends to fund fundamental science, health promotion/disease prevention and treatments/cures research.
Next, the NIH intends to set research priorities that take into consideration the burden of diseases, the value of permanently eradicating them and the opportunity to learn from rare diseases. The strategic plan indicates the agency will remain flexible and respond to the most cutting-edge scientific advances. For example, the NIH will no longer devote 10 percent of its budget to HIV/AIDS research. Recently, the 10 percent allocation has garnered negative attention from Congress because the burden of HIV/AIDS has become significantly less in the U.S. than worldwide. With the new strategic plan, the NIH should have the flexibility to devote resources to developing a vaccine that would eradicate the disease, and can reallocate monies previously spent on HIV/AIDS to other areas.
The third objective, to enhance stewardship, is a bit of a catch-all, but it highlights the importance of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars. The NIH wants to recruit and retain a top-tier biomedical research workforce, enhance the diversity of that workforce, and uphold high standards of rigor and reproducibility for the science that workforce produces.
The last objective is for the NIH to excel as a federal agency “by managing for results.” The agency intends to develop new metrics of scientific success (like the relative citation ratio) so that it may better assess the portfolio of each institute and center. By doing so, it can evaluate areas of overlap and gaps in an I/C’s research portfolio.
Beyond simply laying out four objectives, the strategic plan also makes some hefty predictions about what biomedical research can accomplish by 2020 with stable federal funding and massive scientific effort. The strategic plan predicts that by 2020 cancer patients will have enhanced survival, there will be a universal flu vaccine in clinical trials, structural biology will revolutionize drug screening and much more.
This plan reflects what the NIH has been doing already. But NIH Director Francis Collins explained that was largely the point. The strategic plan will clear up “chronic confusion” in Congress by “articulating” how science funding decisions are already being made. U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, D-Md., said he was very pleased with the plan, calling it “a roadmap for where the additional investments (within NIH) should be made.”
The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology applauds the NIH for prioritizing fundamental research in its strategic plan and for recognizing it as the “foundation for progress.” Follow the Policy Blotter as we monitor the NIH as it carries out this plan.