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October 6, 2003
Volume 81, Number 30
CENEAR 81 30 p. 10
ISSN 0009-2347


Director outlines initiatives to shape agency’s future medical research


In Sept. 30, National Institutes of Health Director Elias A. Zerhouni unveiled a collection of NIH-wide initiatives designed to transform the way research is done at the agency. The five-year plan—known as the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research—stresses interdisciplinary projects.

“The singular goal of all of these initiatives is to synergize research across all of the institutes and centers of NIH and to identify points of pressure that we need to supply to make advances across all fronts,” Zerhouni told the audience. “The key thing here is that all of these initiatives are integrated to accelerate our knowledge and translate that knowledge into effective prevention and treatment strategies.”

The NIH road map is organized around three broad themes: new pathways to discovery, which contains 12 initiatives, including several to create molecular libraries; research teams of the future, which includes nine initiatives focused on high-risk research, interdisciplinary research, and public-private partnerships; and reengineering the clinical research enterprise, which includes seven initiatives to facilitate clinical studies.

NIH has budgeted $130 million in fiscal 2004 to support the road map and expects to spend more than $2.1 billion over the program’s five-year lifetime. The money will come from a common pool of resources supplied by each of the agency’s 27 institutes and centers. The road map will be administered centrally, with individual institutes and centers taking the lead on initiatives as appropriate, Zerhouni explained.

“It’s truly not business as usual for medical research,” Zerhouni said. For example, the road map includes an initiative to fund high-risk (and potentially high-payoff) research, known as the Director’s Innovator Award. This award signals an effort to break from NIH’s tendency to fund traditional, low-risk research. Zerhouni said that he plans to award 10 of these grants in 2004, each worth $500,000 per year.

“We are pleased to see the emphasis on interdisciplinary research, new pathways to discovery, and clinical research,” says Robert D. Wells, president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “The challenge will be to ensure that the projected growth of the new programs does not constrain the many very successful programs that NIH currently has in place.”

The road map is also receiving congressional support. At a joint congressional hearing held late last week on NIH oversight, members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee agreed that Zerhouni has outlined important changes to improve the agency.

The road map is the result of more than a year of planning at NIH, initiated by Zerhouni soon after he joined the agency in May 2002. More than 300 leaders from academia, the government, and the private sector contributed. Details about the road map, including grant and funding opportunities, are available online at


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Copyright © 2003 American Chemical Society

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