Public Affairs

NIH to Form New Institute, Dissolve NCRR

In December, NIH Director Francis Collins announced plans to create a new institute at NIH, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), with the mission of supporting and strengthening translational medicine and therapeutics development. The creation of the Institute was recommended by the Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB), which Collins charged in May 2010 with determining what an effective translational medicine research program would look like and assessing what programs NIH already has. The SMRB issued a report recommending NCATS in response to Collins’ request, and Collins quickly accepted the recommendation in order to make the new institute part of the President’s budget for FY 2012, which begins October 1, 2011.

According to the SMRB, the new center would “provide a central locus for information on and access to resources, tools, and expertise; serve as a catalyst and convener for collaborative interactions and partnerships; expand the pre-competitive space; support training for translational research investigators; and enhance communication with and among all stakeholders. This Center would house some extant NIH programs, such as the Molecular Libraries Program, the Th erapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases Program, the NIH Rapid Access to Interventional Development
Program, the Clinical and Translational Science Awards, and the NIH-FDA Regulatory Science Initiative.”

The NIH Reform Act of 2006 capped the number of Institutes and Centers allowed at NIH at 27. To comply, Collins has announced that the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) will be disbanded to make room for NCATS. NCRR programs will continue and will be placed in other institutes and centers. In January, a preliminary reorganization was
released.

The NIH is accepting feedback from the community on the reorganization.You can submit your comments at http://feedback.nih.gov/index.php/ncats/a-fresh-start-2/. The Biophysical Society Public Affairs Committee is preparing comments on behalf of the biophysics community.

NSB Reevaluating NSF’s Merit Review Criteria

The National Science Board (NSB), the governing board for the National Science Foundation (NSF), is undertaking a thorough review of the NSF’s two merit review criteria, Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts. A task force of the NSB is considering all options, from keeping the criteria just as they are to completely rewriting them, or anything in between. The Task Force is now gathering input from a wide variety of stakeholder groups, and will be developing its report and
recommendations during 2011. You can submit your thoughts and ideas at http://www.nsf.gov/funding/meritreviewform.cfm through March 15.

Currently, all proposals submitted to NSF are evaluated using the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts review criteria. The current review criteria have now been in effect for over a decade.

House Appropriations Committee Members Announced

The Republicans and Democrats have selected the chairs for the appropriation subcommittees for the 212th Congress. The Appropriations committee is responsible for the federal government’s annual budget.

Representative Dennis Rehberg (R-MT) will be the Chair of the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, and
Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-NY) will be the Ranking Member, which is the lead member of the minority party. The Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee handles the NIH budget.

Frank Wolf (R-VA), will be the Chairman of the Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) will be the ranking member. Th e budgets for which this subcommittee is responsible include the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

OSTP Issues Memo on Scientific Integrity

John Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a memorandum on December 17, 2010 to heads of departments and agencies on scientific integrity. The new memorandum describes the minimum standards expected as departments and agencies craft scientific integrity rules appropriate for their particular missions and cultures, including a clear prohibition on political interference in scientific processes and expanded assurances of
transparency. Th e memo also touches on the appointment of advisory boards, government scientists talking to the media, and professional development for government scientists.

Department and agency heads must report on their progress toward completing those rules in June. The memorandum is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/fi les/microsites/ostp/scientifi c-integrity-memo-12172010.pdf.

Bioethics Commission Releases Report on Synthetic Biology

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethics released its fi rst report entitled New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies, in December 2010.

President Obama requested that the commission study synthetic biology following the May 2010 announcement that the J. Craig Venter Institute had created the fi rst synthetic genome. The report contains 18 recommendations including a call for coordinated federal oversight of scientists working in both large institutions andsmaller settings.

“We comprehensively reviewed the developing field of synthetic biology to understand both its potential rewards and risks,” said Amy Gutmann, the Commission Chair and President of the University of Pennsylvania in a press release. “We considered an array of approaches to regulation—from allowing unfettered freedom with minimal oversight and another to prohibiting experiments until they can be ruled completely safe beyond a reasonable doubt. We chose a middle course to maximize public benefits while also safeguarding against risks.”

The Commission also recommended improving the public’s scientific literacy through education. The Biophysical Society noted the need for public education in its comments to the Commission in September.

The report can be found at www.bioethics.gov.

March 2011 Table of Contents