NIH Announces Program to Foster the Independence of New Investigators
"Encouraging independent inquiry by promising new investigators is a major goal for NIH," Dr. Zerhouni said. "We must invest in the future of our new scientists today if we expect to meet the nation's health challenges of tomorrow. New investigators who successfully cross the bridge from research dependence to research independence bring fresh ideas and innovative perspectives to the research enterprise, which are critical to sustaining our ability to push forward the frontiers of medical research."
NIH will issue between 150 and 200 awards for this program in its initial year, beginning in fall 2006. The agency expects to issue the same number of awards in each of the following 5 years. During this time, NIH will provide almost $400 million in support of the program. This award is a major piece of a larger, ongoing NIH effort to support new scientists as they transition to research independence. All NIH institutes and centers are participating in this award program.
NCI will receive $1.8 million in FY 2007 under the NIH initiative, NCI Deputy Director Dr. John Niederhuber explained at the February 7 meeting of the NCAB. The new NIH program is much like NCI's existing Howard Temin Awards, he noted. As a result, "We made sure that we could maintain support for the current 20 awards per year and that they will continue to be known for our new investigators as the Temin awards," he added.
The NIH awards will have an initial 1- to 2-year mentored phase that will allow investigators to complete their supervised research work, publish results, and search for an independent research position. The second, independent phase, years 3 through 5, will allow awardees who secure an assistant professorship, or equivalent position, to establish their own research program and successfully apply for an NIH investigator-initiated (R01) grant. The R01 is the major means by which NIH supports individual scientists in the field.
"This award program is a major step toward fostering the early independence of new investigators, a key to innovation and creativity," Dr. Zerhouni continued. "We must take action now to maintain the tremendous momentum that we've experienced in science. Talented people with new ideas are at the core of our success - we must support them all the way. Nothing is more important, especially in times of tight budgets."
The NIH program is also responsive to the major recommendations of a National Academy of Sciences report issued in 2005, "Bridges to Independence," which called for new ways to mentor and support early career scientific investigators, from conducting their postdoctoral studies to running their own research programs.