NIH Establishes Office to Manage and Fund Transdisplinary Research Initiatives
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Portfolio Analysis and Strategic Initiatives (OPASI) is being established to coordinate the assessment and management of the overall NIH research portfolio, including creation of a "Common Fund" for scientific initiatives in areas of interest across multiple NIH institutes and centers (ICs).
NIH Deputy Director Dr. Raynard Kington presented the background and mission of OPASI at the March 13 joint meeting of NCI's Board of Scientific Advisors (BSA) and Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC). He noted that the new office was in response to concerns raised by Congress and others that NIH was not doing a satisfactory job of strategic planning and investing to address transdisciplinary research opportunities and emerging public health needs.
"A case in point is NIH's obesity initiative," Dr. Kington commented. "The public health warnings on obesity began over 10 years ago with more and more data indicating an impending health problem for the country. Yet NIH didn't develop a comprehensive strategic plan for obesity until 2004." There was a lot of research into obesity at NCI and other ICs "but what was missing was a comprehensive integration across NIH to make sure we were making the right investments in this critical area," he added.
OPASI will "institutionalize the NIH Roadmap process" of identifying and selecting areas of research with crosscutting implications, Dr. Kington continued. OPASI's director (Dr. Kington is currently acting director) will report directly to the NIH director. The office, which will be overseen by a working group of the NIH Steering Committee, will consist of three components: Division of Resource Development and Analysis (DRDA), Division of Evaluation and Systematic Assessments, and Division of Strategic Coordination.
For example, Dr. Kington noted, DRDA will be the home for developing and using new analytic tools and information to do a better job of managing and analyzing NIH's entire portfolio of more than 40,000 grants. In addition, "we will have a systematic, transparent process for scanning the horizon for both scientific opportunities and for emerging public health needs," he explained.
OPASI's Common Fund will be a set-aside, where an agreed-upon percentage of the budget of each IC will be allocated for trans-NIH initiatives selected by OPASI. This will initially be set at 1.6 percent of the ICs' appropriations for FY 2007. There will be no increase in the percentage contribution in future years until the annual NIH budget increase exceeds the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index. "And the rate of growth will be determined annually by the NIH director and the IC directors" up to a maximum of 5 percent, Dr. Kington said.
The identification and selection of trans-NIH research programs will begin with submission of proposals by stakeholders in the scientific and advocacy communities. OPASI staff will initially review the proposals and then the ICs and NIH directors will winnow the list further. They will do that in consultation with a new Council of Councils consisting of 30 members drawn from nominations from the ICs and the NIH director. Initiatives will be funded for an initial 5 years, with an option for either a 5-year renewal, transfer to one or more ICs, or termination.
"We see OPASI as a novel approach to functionally address a problem that some in Congress and others have suggested should be dealt with by structurally changing NIH," Dr. Kington commented.