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  • Washington Highlights

    NIH Director Accepts Advisory Committee Recommendation to Stop Funding for Alcohol Consumption Clinical Trial

    Stephen Heinig, Director, Science Policy
    Jodi (Lubetsky) Yellin, PhD, Director of Research Workforce, Training, and Science Policy

    The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) met June 14 and 15. The meeting covered a range of topics, including addressing opioid addiction, support for next generation researchers, confronting sexual harassment in biomedical research, and a recommendation to halt a clinical trial intended to examine the health effects of moderate alcohol consumption.

    NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, accepted the recommendation to halt the trial. The recommendation was based in part on findings that certain staff at the NIH National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism responsible for developing the trial had improperly communicated with industry sponsors and researchers and concealed information from supervisors.

    On a different issue, ACD member Jose Florez, MD, PhD, Chief, Diabetes Unit and Center for Human Genetic Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, provided an update on the NIH Next Generation Researchers Initiative [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 22, 2017]. He reported that the ACD working group is developing recommendations to revise the definition of Early Stage Investigators (ESIs) from 10 to 15 years and to eliminate the designation of Early Established Investigator (EEI). Instead, a new category of “at-risk” investigators would be created to include accomplished investigators at risk for losing NIH funding. The working group plans to present final recommendations to the ACD in December.

    NIH Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity Hannah Valantine, MD, presented an update on efforts to improve the diversity of scientists in NIH-sponsored research and research training. She highlighted the development of a tool-kit based on efforts within the NIH intramural program to recruit and advance underrepresented minority scientists.

    The ACD also discussed the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s recent report on responding to incidents of reported sexual harassment in the academic fields of science, engineering, and medicine [see Washington Highlights, June 15]. While the NIH does not involve itself in personnel decisions within funded institutions, the agency does require notification of actions that result in personnel changes on funded research projects. The ACD discussed the types of information or messaging around sexual harassment that might be communicated to sponsored institutions.

    In addition, Dr. Collins, National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke Director Walter Koroshetz, MD, and National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow, MD, presented an update on the institute’s research to address the nation’s opioid epidemic. Dr. Collins described opioid research as the NIH’s “highest priority.”