Archive for the ‘R&D Funding’ Category

UK Petition Pushes Linear Model to the Extreme

June 20th, 2009

Posted by: admin

There is a custom in the U.K. to submit petitions to the Prime Minister’s residence, 10 Downing Street.  It can be done in person, by mail, or electronically.  Some of the petitions deal with science and technology issues.  One that I saw circulate on a listserv claims that the U.K. government is moving its research portfolio to support research where the results are already known.  As of today, about 1550 people have signed on to a petition pressuring the government to:

“request the reversal of a policy now being applied by the UK Research Councils. This policy directs funds to projects whose outcomes are specified in advance.”

This reads – at least to this American – that the U.K. is essentially supporting busy work – research that is pointless to conduct since the results are known in advance.  Looking further at the petition, there is this text:

“Where a specific outcome can be predicted with confidence, then there is no research.”

“The UK taxpayer should not support investigations with foregone conclusions, however beguiling. UK research must not be guided by wishful thinking, nor relegated to producing footnotes for ground-breaking discoveries made elsewhere.”

There is a bit of a shift in perspective as the text proceeds.


UK Backs Away from a Bibliometric Research Assessment Exercise

June 19th, 2009

Posted by: admin

According to ScienceInsider (and Times Higher Education), the planned shift of the U.K. Research Assessment Exercise from peer review to bibliometric analysis may not happen.  Bibliometric analysis may still be used, but only to guide the extensive peer review process that has determined how the U.K. government distributes research money to its universities.  Part of the reason for the proposed shift had to deal with the significant costs involved.

Moving foward the Higher Education Funding Council will need to figure out how bibliometrics could be used in a meaningful way.  Otherwise there will be additional pressure to try and bump up citation counts and numbers of publications with little regard to the quality of either.  There are already ways to game the assessment in terms of who and what is selected by institutions to be assessed.  If bibliometric analysis isn’t crafted carefully, the ways to skew results will increase.

NSF Director Speaks on Stimulus Funds

June 12th, 2009

Posted by: admin

New Scientist runs an interview with National Science Foundation Director Arden Bement where he discusses what the Foundation will do with its share of the stimulus fund.  It appears the NSF will follow the same path of the National Institutes of Health and use the funding boost to clear the backlog of proposals.  After the interviewer asks about the hard landing sure to follow, Director Bement mentions that

If we plan and manage well, this will not be a major factor. The president has plans for a big increase in NSF funding in 2012. By integrating our usual budget increases with the stimulus money we will make this work.

This suggests that the increase Bement mentions will be above and beyond the planned increases from President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative and the COMPETES Act.  I’ll believe it when I see the President’s FY 2012 request, which will probably come around the same time President Obama will be looking for Director Bement’s replacement (his 6 year term expires sometime in 2010).

Biomedicine – Can’t Fund it Fast Enough

June 9th, 2009

Posted by: admin

Yesterday the National Institutes of Health issued a press release on the Challenge Grant program, which is designed to help spend some of the stimulus money awarded to the agency.  Approximately 20,000 applications were received (H/T The Scientist), which is equal to the number of applications the agency typically receives in a major review round.

How many grants will be rewarded?  According to the press release:

“NIH expects to devote at least $200 million in ARRA funding to Challenge Grants. In addition to the approximately 200 Challenge Grants that will be funded by the NIH Office of the Director, it is likely that more than 200 ARRA-related grants will be funded by NIH Institutes or Centers.”

So, 200 Challenge grants through the Office of the Director, and 200 or more stimulus related grants through other centers.  The acceptance rate is around 1-2 percent.  And this is after Senator Specter’s vote was purchased with a $6.5 billion boost to NIH funding.  It appears that the oversupply of biomedical research grants will keep acceptance rates low regardless of the money thrown at the situation.

Professional Research Techs: A Way to Address Ph.D. Overproduction?

May 28th, 2009

Posted by: admin

This article at Science Progress describes an oversight in research funding proposals – both from funding agencies and from those seeking grants.  The scientific equipment, and more importantly, the personnel necessary to operate and maintain it, don’t get much attention in funding.  The main recommendations from the author, a Ph.D. candidate in Biochemistry:

“In order to stay globally competitive, the federal government must invest in developing a sustainable and professional technical research workforce to supply research demands at both our nation’s institutes and universities. This could be undertaken by:

  • Boosting job stability in this sector by increasing the number of state and federal positions for permanent university research staff
  • Restructuring the grant process with an emphasis on personnel and service contracts in conjunction with new equipment
  • Sponsoring the creation of university degree programs for technical training in the laboratory sciences.”


NIH to Start Drug Development

May 20th, 2009

Posted by: admin

No, the National Institutes of Health are not going up against Merck, GlaxoSmithKline and the other companies of Big Pharma.  They are going to start drug development research on so-called “neglected” diseases (H/T ScienceInsider).  The $24 million program (less than .1 percent of the total NIH budget) to establish a drug development pipeline will trigger a new initiative called Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases (TRND) coordinated through the NIH Office of Rare Disease Research.  The NIH defines a rare disease as one that affects fewer than 200,000 Americans (less than .067 percent of the population), and estimates there are 6800 rare diseases affecting 25 million Americans (nearly 1 in 10 of us).

I think this is a perfectly reasonable thing for government to take on – fill in the gaps in biomedical development that are not currenlty being addressed by the private sector.  Given the costs of pharmaceutical research, companies often focus on diseases or conditions that affect millions of people.  Government can also make any drugs developed for these diseases available relatively cheaply, as they are not motivated by profit in these endeavors.

FY 2010 Budget Roundup

May 13th, 2009

Posted by: admin

The President’s fiscal year 2010 request was released last Thursday.  This is distinct from the budget resolution that was approved earlier.  The resolution is meant to guide the budget process in Congress.  The request is available online.  There is no federal breakout by science discipline, so various advocacy groups pick up the slack.  The closest thing to an assessment of R&D funding on its own is at the Office of Science and Technology Policy website (more on those in a few days), which provides several different cuts.  While a scorecard is usually a good idea in any budget cycle, the added stimulus spending adds an additional wrinkle.

One way of observing the different perspectives of the various science advocacy groups is to review their budget analyses.  For instance, see which organizations complain about the lack of an NIH boost (even with a $10 billion stimulus shot).  Here are a few after the jump, but feel free to see how your disciplinary society considered the budget request.


Specter’s Party Flip Hides Big Re-Election Push for Research

May 3rd, 2009

Posted by: admin

Senator Arlen Specter’s recent decision to rejoin the Democratic party (he was a member in the 1960s), attracted a fair amount of attention this week.  What did not was his effort to give yet another boost to National Institutes of Health funding and create another biomedical research agency. Senator Specter wants to reset the baseline of the NIH to $40 billion (roughly the amount of the current NIH budget plus the $10 billion increase from the stimulus bill.  $6.5 billion of that $10 billion was courtesy of the Senator).  In addition to this permanent 1/3 increase in the NIH budget, Specter wants to establish a new agency, the Cures Acceleration Network, to help translational research.  This is research to facilitate converting the knowledge of scientific discoveries into usable cures.  Specter uses the phrase “valley of death” to refer to this kind of research, though readers may be more familiar with that phrase in a more general context of commercializing university research.

The plan can be found on a new website,  The domain name should tip you off that this is a campaign website, you can see the copyright notice for Citizens for Arlen Specter.  Nothing wrong with that, I note it because I have a hard time recalling other instances where research as an issue factored in a campaign for office when an initiative or other measure was not also on the ballot.  Specter will introduce legislation soon, if he hasn’t already, but press reports indicate the new agency would be funded at $2 billion under the legislation, and serve as an independent federal agency, like NASA.  It would be outside the NIH or the Health and Human Services Department.


NIH Issues Draft Stem Cell Funding Guidelines, Focuses on Embryos Generated for IVF

April 20th, 2009

Posted by: admin

On Friday the National Institutes of Health issued draft guidelines for funding research on stem cells.  This guidelines are in response to the March Executive Order issued by President Obama revising the previous funding constraints on stem cell research.  The guidelines are for extramural research, as internal NIH procedures cover all intramural research.

As is all too common with this issue, things get blurred pretty quickly.  This funding and associated guidelines are for research conducted on the stem cells, and cannot fund the derivation of human embryos.  The Dickey-Wicker Amendment bans such derivation.  The guidelines also restrict NIH funding to embryonic stem cells derived from embryos created for reproductive purposes that would otherwise be discarded.  Research on adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells can *continue* to be funded by NIH dollars.  As it stands, this is not a free-for-all.  From the announcement of the draft guidelines:

NIH funding for research using human embryonic stem cells derived from other sources, including somatic cell nuclear transfer, parthenogenesis, and/or IVF embryos created for research purposes, is not allowed under these Guidelines.

As I noted, these are draft guidelines, and comments can be submitted to NIH.  The comment period is 30 days from the publication of a notice of rulemaking in the Federal Register, which should happen this week.  Check back to the NIH link I provided above to find the final date for comments, which should be no later than May 24, along with more specifics about how and where to send your comments.

Monetizing Failure

April 15th, 2009

Posted by: admin

Recent comments by a Merck executive, that “Seventy-five cents of every dollar we spend on R&D goes to fund failure,” reminded me not only of an earlier post about ways to finance risky research, but about ways to monetize failure.  Now it seems counterintuitive to reward failure, but there is still useful knowledge in what doesn’t work.  Besides the fact that a certain hypotheses is incorrect, data generated by experiments can produce knowledge useful in other areas.  This is also true in pharmaceuticals, where certain best selling drugs (such as a little blue pill) were not developed for the purpose which has made them so popular.

A useful next question here would be whether or not there need to be new incentives developed for the review and use of these failures?  I don’t know whether a nudge or a push is called for, but it seems to me that an era of diminishing returns and constrained resources ought to encourage more mining of the past to find usable knowledge.  That it apparently doesn’t is frustrating.