Common Fund Program Lifecycle
Strategic Planning: Phases 1 and 2
The Common Fund is intended to be a flexible resource for NIH to make strategic investments in programs that will have high impact NIH-wide. Strategic planning is undertaken regularly to identify research areas that address key roadblocks in biomedical research or that represent emerging scientific opportunities ripe for Common Fund investment.
Strategic planning involves the identification of trans-NIH challenges and opportunities that address the Common Fund criteria. Broad topics identified in Phase 1 are refined into a series of well-defined programs and initiatives in Phase 2. The Council of Councils for the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI) acts as an external advisory panel to the DPCPSI and NIH Directors for consideration of Phase 1 concepts.
As part of the most recent round of Phase 1 planning for potential new Common Fund programs, ideas were solicited via several activities:
- "Innovate to Accelerate" strategic planning workshop with external scientific experts from a broad range of biomedical research disciplines, nominated by the NIH Institutes and Centers for their record of scientific creativity and visionary thinking (July 2015)
- Online discussion forum for invited participants nominated by the NIH Institutes and Centers based on their proven ability to think broadly about important scientific questions (July - September 2015)
- Solicitation of ideas from the NIH Institutes and Center Directors (July - October 2015)
To effectively evaluate the responsiveness of the proposed idea to Common Fund criteria, as well as the potential impact of the program, ideas nominated through the activities above are addressing the following questions:
- What is the major obstacle/challenge/opportunity that the Common Fund should address? Why is now the right time to address this topic?
- What would the goals of the program be?
- Why is a trans-NIH strategy needed to achieve these goals?
- What initiatives might form the strategic plan for this topic?
- If a Common Fund program on this topic achieved its objectives, what would be the impact?
Ideas emerging from Phase 1 strategic planning activities were reviewed by NIH leadership and then referred to the Council of Councils for concept clearance in the winter of 2016. Three concepts were cleared and underwent Phase 2 planning. In late 2016, NIH Leadership selected two new programs for potential launch in future fiscal years. These programs may change in nature or scope depending on scientific opportunities and/or available funding.
Transformative High Resolution Cryo-Electron Microscopy (cryo-EM): Knowing the structure of a molecule reveals important information about how it functions and can provide insight into potential drug targets for fighting disease. Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) is a method used to image frozen biological molecules without the use of structure-altering dyes or fixatives, providing a more accurate picture of the molecules and greater understanding of biological function. However, the high cost of cryo-EM limits the method’s availability to researchers. The NIH Common Fund's Transformative High Resolution Cryo-Electron Microscopy program aims to provide nationwide access for researchers to cryo-EM through the creation of national service centers, improvement of the technology, and the development of an expert workforce.
Human BioMolecular Atlas Platform (HuBMAP): In organisms consisting of multiple cell types, diverse cells with different functions and structures develop as we grow and age. The organization and variability of these cells have a profound impact on the function of different tissues, process of aging, and emergence of diseases and conditions. Recently developed technologies are allowing researchers to explore cells on the individual level. The Human BioMolecular Atlas Platform (HuBMAP) program aims to facilitate research on single cells within tissues by building a central platform to bring together data from around the world and making it accessible to the scientific community. The HuBMAP platform will synthesize a wide variety of data to build detailed and comprehensive biomolecular maps of human tissues.
A third program under consideration, Mechanisms of Fatigue, will undergo further planning to be considered as a potential Common Fund program in future years. The tentative goal of this program would be to determine whether molecular, cellular, or imaging signatures of fatigue can be defined; if so, the program would identify molecular triggers of fatigue and determine how this condition is resolved by rest in healthy individuals. This would then provide the foundation necessary to understand why fatigue fails to resolve in the presence of disease/disorders/aging. Data from these studies would be made available in a public database and would be expected to catalyze research in this area for years to come.
Additionally, three existing Common Fund programs may be supported for a second stage beginning in FY2018, pending availability of funds: Illuminating the Druggable Genome, Metabolomics, and the Undiagnosed Diseases Network.
As each Common Fund program is unique, the implementation of each program varies. To read more about the currently supported Common Fund programs, see Common Fund Programs.
Common Fund programs are designed to achieve a set of high-impact goals within a 5-10 year time frame. At the conclusion of each program, deliverables will either stimulate IC-funded research or will transition to support by ICs or other entities that find these resources useful. Programs that have transitioned from Common Fund support can be found on the Former Programs page.
Common Fund programs are evaluated throughout the lifecycle as the need arises.