NIH chief to shift more funds to back the most promising drug researchers

NIH Director Francis Collins plans to start off 2014 with a New Year's resolution to spend more of the institute's bucks backing the most promising investigators, shifting some money away from the project grants that dominate its approach to backing high-risk early-stage research.

Nature picked up on the initiative, reporting that Collins was inspired to back a change in strategy after witnessing the success of the NIH's Pioneer awards. Those awards--which provide a select group of scientists $500,000 each, per year, over a period of 5 years--spawned a higher rate of highly cited research papers when compared to the standard R01 grant, which provides project support of $250,000 a year for three to 5 years.

"It's time to look at balancing our portfolio," Collins says, according to Nature. And he'll be following up with a pitch to institute directors early in January.

The new approach to backing individual researchers broadly follows the pattern laid out by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which has enjoyed considerable success. Genentech, in particular, likes to cite the large number of HHMI-backed investigators who work with the groundbreaking Roche ($RHHBY) subsidiary.

But not everyone is happy with the approach.

Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University in Tempe, tells Nature that the NIH may get more highly cited research from individuals instead of projects, but there's no reason to believe it will work better at inspiring a better track record at translational research--pushing products into the clinic and on to an approval at the FDA--which is the institute's primary goal.

Given Collins' success at directing NIH strategy during the course of his tenure there, though, the NIH may soon start testing that theory.

- here's the story from Nature

Editor's Corner: Is this the NIH Francis Collins wanted to create?