Harold Varmus knows what makes America great! #SCIENCE #RAawards16 @ResearchAmerica

Research America hosted its annual Advocacy Awards this week, which included honoring Dr. Harold Varmus with its Legacy Award.

Dr. Harold Varmus received the Legacy award for his lifetime commitment to advancing research.  In the 20 years we have hosted advocacy awards evenings, this is only the 4th time we have bestowed the Legacy Award.  I hope you will take a moment to consider the timely challenge Dr. Varmus delivered to us all via his acceptance remarks, in which he refers to science as representing the best of what we have been and must continue to be as a nation.

Dr. Varmus made an amazing speech during his acceptance of the award promoting science and research in America. Can Varmus run for President? He actually knows what makes America great!

What to get NIH director Francis Collins for Christmas #tistheseason

NIH director Francis Collins wants only one thing for Christmas this year (well, maybe alsoan increase in NIH budget, but I guess he checked that one off the list already)… your thoughts! Specifically, your thoughts on how to make his blog better:

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From my “house” at NIH to yours, I’d like to wish each of you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season and a happy, healthful New Year. Throughout the past year, I hope that you’ve enjoyed the entries in this blog, sharing just a few of the many breakthroughs in biomedical research and introducing you to some of the young scientists who fill me with such hope for the future. As we prepare to turn the NIH Director’s Blog calendar to 2016, I look forward to bringing you even more exciting discoveries that show the power of science to build a healthier tomorrow.

But I need your help! In this season of giving, I’d like to ask each of you for a little something: your thoughts on how to make what I think is a good blog even better. So, please click on the “gift” below to take part in a brief, anonymous survey that should take no more than a couple of minutes. Thanks so much for your time!

Fill out the Director’s blog readership survey here!!

Senate approves $2billion boost for NIH!

HALLELUJAH! This is great news (and a great birthday gift for myself).  The senate appropriations panel has just approved a $2 billion raise for the NIH in 2016. More details on the next steps and what this means for biomedical research in Science.

Boost in funding for NIH?! #AboutTime #StillNotEnough

Covered in Politico last week, looks like NIH is finally getting the attention it deserves and hopefully a much-needed boost in funding as well.

In summary, the “21st Century Cures Act” just passed the vote in the house of representatives (yippee), and now goes on to the senate.  A lot of the provisions on this bill are administrative stuff (think: how long the NIH director can serve, etc); HOWEVER a key provision creates a new NIH Innovation Fund and calls for $9.35 billion in funding.  This will be particularly helpful for those of us early in our careers.

After a dozen years of flat funding, the National Institutes of Health has become a top target on Capitol Hill — not for less money but more, potentially billions more by 2020.

It’s a remarkable turnaround for the huge medical research agency, one triggered by a confluence of circumstances. Fears that the United States is losing ground to international competitors in science and technology synched with lawmakers’ need to show frustrated voters that they can work in a bipartisan manner, and NIH offered “an easy win” on both, advocates say

Add in the institutes’ director, Francis Collins, a scientific celebrity with guitar-playing, motorcycle-riding everyman charm, who has wooed over 300 lawmakers in recent years. Plus crowds of patients flooding the halls of the Capitol and headlines about the fantastic promise of new cancer immunotherapies.

All of this has made for a billion-dollar movement — or $2 billion, as Senate appropriators have proposed adding to NIH’s budget next year. Even lawmakers whose usual mantra is fiscal restraint and less government spending are now among the agency’s most vocal cheerleaders.

If anything, said Emily Holubowich, executive director of the nonprofit Coalition for Health Funding, there’s “competition among lawmakers of who is going to save NIH first.”

As the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, NIH has long had an aura about its work that gave it almost sacred space amid partisan bickering. Although that didn’t protect it from sequestration in 2013, the fallout may have been a blessing in disguise, underscoring the urgency for funding and reinvigorating efforts by advocates and the research community to help the agency regain ground.

“The broader pressures of sequestration and austerity” have “really put a lot of pressure on lawmakers, and rightfully so, that this is not acceptable,” Holubowich said.

Yet those other factors played heavily into the recent moves for greater resources. The emergence of key research-driven efforts like the president’s Precision Medicine Initiative and the House’s 21st Century Cures Act only intensified the interest.

Continue reading

Make your voice heard at the NIH! #FutureOfResearch #WeAreTheFuture

The NIH is calling for a Request for Information (RFI) in order to optimize funding policies and other strategies to improve the impact and sustainability of biomedical research.  This comes at a time where our biomedical research enterprise is suffering from an unsustainable cycle of not enough funding, too many postdocs/grad students, and not enough faculty positions.

The NIH wants to maximize the impact of the taxpayers’ investments in biomedical research.  The NIH is especially interested in identifying strategies that will: a) maximize the productivity and creativity of the biomedical research workforce it funds and b) ensure funding for a broad and diverse group of investigators studying a wide range of important questions.  These strategies should enhance the stability of individual research teams and the sustainability of the overall research enterprise. The NIH seeks input from researchers, academic institutions, professional societies and other stakeholders on potential strategies to achieve these goals.  We invite comments on any or all of the following areas:

1.  Key issues that currently limit the impact of NIH’s funding for biomedical research and challenge the sustainability of the biomedical research enterprise. We welcome responses that explain why these issues are of high importance.
2.  Ideas about adjusting current funding policies to ensure both continued impact and sustainability of the NIH-supported research enterprise.  We welcome responses that point to specific strengths or weaknesses in current policies and suggest how we can build on or improve them.
3.  Ideas for new policies, strategies, and other approaches that would increase the impact and sustainability of NIH-funded biomedical research.
4.  Any other issues that respondents feel are relevant.

It is critical that anyone involved or invested in biomedical research participate.  The deadline is May 17th.  Submit your comments here!

Or for more info, example responses, and commonly raised issues, check out the Future of Research blog.

NIH will NOT fund research involving gene-editing technology in human embryos #drama

From the NIH directors blog, Francis Collins just issued a statement on the NIH stance toward gene editing on human embryos:

NIH will not fund any use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos. The concept of altering the human germline in embryos for clinical purposes has been debated over many years from many different perspectives, and has been viewed almost universally as a line that should not be crossed. Advances in technology have given us an elegant new way of carrying out genome editing, but the strong arguments against engaging in this activity remain. These include the serious and unquantifiable safety issues, ethical issues presented by altering the germline in a way that affects the next generation without their consent, and a current lack of compelling medical applications justifying the use of CRISPR/Cas9 in embryos.

This comes in response to a Chinese group who has used the CRISPR/Cas9 system to delete a gene from human embryos that causes a fatal blood disorder.  There has been quite a bit of controversy on this new technique, which has led to the developers of the CRISPR/Cas9 system to call for a moratorium. Read the full statement from the NIH director here.

CauseScience would love to hear your thoughts on this new technology! Do we need to control the usage of this gene editing technology? Are scientists pushing the technology too fast without considering ethical implications? Is gene editing ethical?   Comment or tweet @CauseScience1

Retiring NCI director Harold Varmus reports on the condition of cancer research!! #science

Check out this insightful NYTimes article/interview with Harold Varmus, retiring director of National Cancer Institute, on what he considers the current condition of cancer research.

In a letter to colleagues announcing his departure as the director of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Harold Varmus, 75, quoted Mae West. “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor,” he wrote, “and rich is better.”

The line was characteristic of Dr. Varmus: playful and frank, not what one might expect from a Nobel laureate. But it also distilled a central question facing biomedical research today. Is the decline in funding that has shaken universities and research labs here to stay? If so, what does that mean for scientific research?

Dr. Varmus, whose last day at the cancer institute is Tuesday, recently reflected on financial constraints in science, the fight against cancer and his own efforts to remain healthy.

Read the great interview here!!!