2 August 2011 20:03
Title of proposed idea: NIH Award Strategies
Nominator: Innovation Brainstorm participants
Major obstacle/challenge to overcome: A common theme during the online discussion prior to the Innovation Brainstorm meeting and at the meeting itself was how to bring together disparate fields of science. Despite recent Common Fund (CF) efforts and programs across the NIH, the formation of teams and integration of multiple disciplines remains a major barrier.
Common Fund investment that could accelerate scientific progress in this field: Potential CF Investments include:
- Student Training: Create pilot Ph.D. programs in emerging, cross-disciplinary areas (e.g., stem cell biology and bioengineering). Such a program should receive CF investment for 10 years, to develop a curriculum and engage existing faculty. Students would perform rotations in cross-disciplinary labs.
- Postdoctoral and Faculty Training Fellowships: Postdoctoral fellowship awards could be targeted to physical scientists and engineers, and trainees would be co-advised and trained in the different fields. Another idea is a faculty fellowship program that would fund salary and supplies for periods of three to nine months in which mid-career scientists and engineers would work in clinical labs or vice-versa.
- Facilitating Ph.D. and M.D. Interactions: Topical workshops could bring together clinicians and professional scientists and engineers. One idea, modeled after the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (http://www.keckfutures.org/ ), is to host a mini-course, in which attendees work in teams (8-10 people) to solve grand challenges, and then present and summarize their results. Workshop participants could also apply for seed funding afterward with awards of $100,000 and $250,000 for two years. If successful after the pilot period, awardee teams could then compete for a much larger pool of funds, around $1.5 million for five years.
- Creating Mechanisms for Small Team Proposals: Fund small, interdisciplinary team proposals (of three to four investigators partnered with companies) that are larger than multi-PI projects but smaller than Center awards. Another idea is funding a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-like mechanism in which program officers facilitate team building and which allows innovative proposals that might not have fared well in traditional study sections to get done.
- Low Hanging Fruit for Immediate Impact: The NIH could fund an intermediate stage of funding that validates university or donor-sponsored initiatives. This would encourage real investments outside of NIH and provide a federal “stamp-of-approval” for innovative or cross-cutting ideas that emerge. Another idea is to provide funding to support start-up companies, enabling them to establish an infrastructure that is a pre-requisite for attracting other investors.