At an Aug. 23 hearing covering research progress as a result of Congress’s investment in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., announced a series of efforts the agency is undertaking to further protect the integrity of biomedical research in the United States.
Testifying before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Dr. Collins indicated that NIH has sent letters to awardee institutions identifying three areas that the agency plans to address:
- Disclosures by NIH-funded institutions of substantial resource contributions from foreign governments and other organizations;
- Diversion of intellectual property to other entities, including other countries; and
- Breaches in the confidentiality of the peer review process among reviewers.
Dr. Collins also announced that, in partnership with other agencies, NIH-funded academic institutions, and U.S. professional organizations, a new working group of the NIH’s Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) will examine strategies to enhance reporting processes, the security of intellectual property, and the integrity of the peer review system
HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) emphasized the value of recruiting foreign talent to conduct research funded by the U.S. government, noting that there is a “great advantage to our country of attracting the brightest people from around the world to our universities and laboratories as long as they conduct their research in appropriate ways.
Lauding Congress’s substantial investment in NIH over the last four years, Chairman Alexander also highlighted the science community’s progress toward a set of “bold predictions” Dr. Collins made in 2016 about the potential that medical research holds.
“It is hard to think of a major scientific advancement since World War II that has not been supported by federal funding,” Chairman Alexander stated. “But we are not the only country to have figured that out,” he added, noting that China may surpass the United States in total research and development spending this year.
In addition to disease-specific questions and questions about the pharmaceutical industry’s role in research, senators also inquired about NIH’s strategies to foster “bolder” thinking among grant applicants, as well as to increase the number of early stage investigators and diversity of the research workforce. In response to questions about additional authorities that would help accelerate NIH’s progress toward new treatments and diagnostics, Dr. Collins indicated that broader “other transactional authority,” such as the language included in the committee’s opioid package [see Washington Highlights, April 20], would give NIH greater flexibility in making awards.