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  • Washington Highlights

    NIH Council of Councils Discusses Pandemic Impact on Research, New Initiatives


    Stephen Heinig, Director, Science Policy
    Julia Omotade, Sr. Science Policy Specialist

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Council of Councils, which operates in the NIH Office of the Director, met virtually on May 20-21. The council oversees the NIH Common Fund and engages in discussions about cross-cutting issues that impact the entire NIH and biomedical community. It is composed of members largely drawn from councils of other NIH institutes or centers and is chaired by James Anderson, MD, PhD, director of the NIH Division for Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives.

    On May 20, the sessions included a presentation by NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Michael Lauer, MD, on NIH funding trends up to fiscal year 2020 and the impact of the pandemic on extramural biomedical research, productivity, and community morale. For the past several years, the NIH has received annual appropriations increases that have generally improved or stabilized the success rates for funding new applications. Close to 40,000 research project grants are now funded, with 35,000 individual investigators — a trend that has steadily risen in the last decade. NIH management has also helped stabilize support for early-, middle- and late-career investigators, after initial concerns that the share of awards to middle-career investigators was declining.

    These trends put the NIH in a relatively stable position when the pandemic occurred and has helped the agency and research institutions manage the disruption to research programs. A survey of the extramural community has indicated strong concerns among younger investigators for their careers. The NIH has taken steps to support early-career investigators, including the provision of a yearly $2,500 child care benefit for research training fellows; the benefit will be extended to trainees in NIH T32 training grant programs in 2022. Lauer’s session also highlighted stratified demographic data and trends regarding the biomedical workforce, including the funding rates and the impact on career trajectory based on gender and ethnicity/race.

    Sessions on May 21 included a presentation by then-acting Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity Marie Bernard, PhD, on the NIH’s UNITE initiative to address structural racism in biomedical research [refer to Washington Highlights, March 5]. The NIH is analyzing more than 1,000 responses received from its public request for information in March, including comments from the AAMC [refer to Washington Highlights, April 8].

    The NIH also released two funding opportunity announcements under the Common Fund, including an announcement on the Transformative Research to Address Health Disparities and Advance Health Equity initiative and a companion research opportunity specific for minority-serving institutions. On May 26, the NIH announced that Bernard was permanently appointed to the position as NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity.