Setting the Course for Scientific Discovery


On Wednesday, NIH published its strategic plan for fiscal years 2016-2020. I strongly encourage you to take a look at the plan, which focuses on four objectives that will help guide NIH’s priorities over the next five years. The objectives align with many familiar themes for readers of this blog:

  1. advance opportunities in biomedical research in fundamental science, treatment and cures, and health promotion and disease prevention
  2. foster innovation by setting NIH priorities to enhance nimbleness, consider burden of disease and value of permanently eradicating a disease, and advance research opportunities presented by rare diseases
  3. enhance scientific stewardship by recruiting and retaining an outstanding biomedical research workforce, enhancing workforce diversity and impact through partnerships, ensuring rigor and reproducibility, optimizing approaches to inform funding decisions, encouraging innovation, and engaging in proactive risk management practices
  4. excel as a federal science agency by managing for results by developing the “science of science,” balancing outputs with outcomes, conducting workforce analyses, continually reviewing peer review, evaluating steps to enhance rigor and reproducibility, reducing administrative burden, and tracking effectiveness of risk management

Our office, the NIH Office of Extramural Research, looks forward to playing a critical role in moving many of these objectives forward, from the myriad issues around the biomedical workforce, as well as peer review, administrative burden, risk management, managing for results, using data to drive decisions, and more.

It’s an exciting time to be working at NIH. We will be evaluating our progress in meeting the objectives laid out in the strategic plan, and the plan will continue to evolve to meet the needs of the biomedical research community. I look forward to engaging in lively discussion on these topics with you in the months and years ahead.


  1. NIH should fund trials of repurposed drugs. It could partner with non-profit foundations or perhaps CMS innovations. The impact could be swift and large.

  2. The change in climate has shifted our ecology and tick-borne diseases are on the rise. Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the US. The disease, which was first discovered in Lyme, CT, has been expanding its footprint across the country with hot spots in the northern midwest and on the coast in California. Lyme has been reported in 49 of 50 US states and more than 65 countries worldwide. It would be great to see more accurate and accessible data tracking, as well as the ecology of ticks, improved disease diagnostics (the current antibody based test misses up to 60% of cases), and more effective therapeutics for late stage Lyme disease. Lyme disease receives less than 2% of public funding for West Nile and 0.2% of funding for HIV/AIDS, despite the fact that the annual case count for Lyme dwarfs either disease. Researchers at Johns Hopkins recently reported that Lyme symptoms still occur in 63% of Lyme patients who were treated with a standard dose of antibiotics. Thank you!

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