NIH Releases First Agency-Wide Strategic Plan

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By Jeannie Baumann

Dec. 16 — The NIH unveiled a five-year, agency-wide strategic plan Dec. 16 to guide the world's largest biomedical research agency through 2020, setting goals to make significant strides in flu and HIV vaccines, cancer survival rates and diabetes.

While each of the National Institutes of Health's 27 institutes and centers already issues its own individual plan, the NIH-Wide Strategic Plan represents the first effort since the early 1990s to develop a plan that covers the entire agency. But that plan was never published, NIH Director Francis S. Collins said earlier in 2015. The NIH-wide plan sets goals for fiscal years 2016 to 2020 that are designed to complement the individual strategic plans.

Collins said in a Dec. 16 statement that the agency-wide plan will guide efforts to turn scientific discoveries into better health, while upholding the NIH's responsibility to be a wise steward of its funding resources.

“Scientific and technological breakthroughs that have arisen from NIH-supported research account for many of the gains that the United States has seen in health and longevity,” Collins said. “But much remains to be done.”

The plan centers on four objectives: advance opportunities in biomedical research, foster innovation, enhance scientific stewardship and excel as a federal science agency. These objectives, the NIH said, will “help guide NIH’s priorities over the next five years as it pursues its mission of seeking fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and applying that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.”

Specific Goals

Based on those objectives, the plan identifies a number of aspirations that the agency hopes to achieve over the next five years:

• enhance survival of many thousands of cancer patients by applying precision medicine;

• conduct clinical trials of a candidate vaccine that marks a critical step toward a universal flu vaccine;

• support research to develop effective, tailored behavioral and social interventions to promote health and prevent illness in populations that experience health disparities;

• initiate in South Africa in 2016 a pivotal efficacy trial of a novel HIV vaccine, with a goal of conferring at least 50 percent protection against acquiring HIV;

• apply pharmacogenomics in real-world clinical settings to foster improved outcomes in the use of several drugs;

• support clinical trials that show at least a half-dozen interventions thought to be clinically beneficial actually have no value;

• develop radical new methods for structural biology to revolutionize drug screening and optimization;

• develop applications of certain mobile health technologies to provide rigorous evidence for their use in enhancing health promotion and disease prevention;

• support research that will directly contribute to Food and Drug Administration-approved therapies for at least a dozen rare diseases;

• develop a wearable biosensor for monitoring blood-alcohol levels in real time to show efficacy for preventing alcohol-related injury and disease;

• reverse paralysis and restore some normal functions to spinal cord injury patients;

• conduct field tests for the efficacy of vaccines against respiratory syncytial virus; and

• conduct research on the artificial pancreas that leads to advanced trials showing significantly better management of diabetes, without the dangers of hypoglycemia.

 

Living Document

NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence A. Tabak said in a statement that implementing these objectives will enable more than 300,000 NIH-supported scientists to drive science further and deliver cures faster.

“We are faced with extraordinary opportunities that demand exceptional attention if their promise is to be fully realized,” Tabak said.

Over the next five years, the NIH said, its leadership will evaluate the agency’s progress in meeting the objectives in the strategic plan, which will be a living document that will be open to refinements.

Congress mandated the strategic plan in the FY 2015 omnibus appropriations law (Pub. L. No. 113-235) enacted exactly one year before the release of the strategic plan.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Randy Kubetin at rkubetin@bna.com

The NIH-Wide Strategic Plan is available at http://www.nih.gov/sites/default/files/about-nih/strategic-plan-fy2016-2020-508.pdf.