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Common Fund Program Lifecycle


Strategic Planning: Phases 1 and 2

Common Fund Strategic Planning Reports

The Public Health Service Act requires the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to submit a strategic plan to Congress every two years for funding research through the Common Fund.

2015 Strategic Planning Report
2013 Strategic Planning Report
2011 Strategic Planning Report
2009 Strategic Planning Report


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. 

Phase 1 and Phase 2 Chart

FY 2018 Phase 1 Strategic Planning 

As part of Phase 1 planning for potential new Common Fund programs in fiscal year 2018 and beyond, 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?

FY 2018 Phase 2 Strategic Planning Activities

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 will soon undergo Phase 2 planning, for a potential launch in FY 2018 or beyond (pending availability of funds). These programs may change in nature or scope depending on scientific opportunities and/or available funding. Programs currently under consideration are:

Microscope lensTransformative High Resolution Cryo-Electron Microscopy (cryo-EM): The goal of this program would be to build capacity and infrastructure for Cryo-EM through the development of comprehensive centers and through training. High resolution Cryo-EM is quickly becoming a powerful method for determining structures of proteins, particularly for protein complexes. However, US academic institutions are currently ill-equipped to take advantage of recent improvements in Cryo-EM due to the expense of the equipment and lack of training on new methods and computational approaches required to analyze the data. This program would address these needs. Technology development has also been proposed as a component of this program, focusing on tomography as an approach to resolve structures of protein complexes inside cells.

Single cell diagnosticsHuman Cell Atlas: The goals of the Human Cell Atlas would be to a) use newly emerging technologies and methods to create an atlas that describes cells in human tissues at a single cell level, b) to establish a data resource for the data, and c) to continue the development of tools and methods that support this endeavor. Several issues will need to be defined through additional planning, such as specific methods and approaches to be used, the relative balance between in situ analysis versus dispersed cell populations, and tissues that might provide an initial focus for the program. An additional question is whether the program should focus on healthy tissues as a reference data set, perhaps analyzing cell populations at multiple developmental stages, or whether comparison of healthy versus disease tissues should be an objective.

fatigueMechanisms of Fatigue:  The goals of the Mechanisms of Fatigue 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.

New FY 2016-2018 Common Fund Activities!

The Common Fund launched a new program, Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans in FY 2016. Additionally,the Knockout Mouse Phenotyping program (KOMP2) will be supported for a second stage to further develop and capitalize on the successful resources generated in the first stage of support. Planned activities for FY 2017 and beyond are contingent upon availability of funds.

Phase 3



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.


Phase 4



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.


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