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News from the National Academies

Date: June 19, 2003
Contacts: Patrice Pages, Media Relations Officer
Chris Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

For Immediate Release

Publication Announcement

Making Large-Scale Biomedical Science Work

The Human Genome Project, considered by life scientists to be their first foray into "big science," has paved the way for future large-scale projects that promise to lead to faster improvements in human health. But no guidelines on how to organize and fund such initiatives in the biomedical sciences have been available -- until now. A new report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council of the National Academies fills this gap by describing how the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies should select, fund, launch, and evaluate large, collaborative biomedical projects, and how their scientific staff should be trained and retained.

"A large-scale approach is relatively new in the life sciences, so there are very few precedents to follow or learn from when planning and launching a new project of this magnitude," said Bruce Stillman, vice chair of the committee that wrote the report and director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. "With the recent completion of the Human Genome Project, it is now time to reflect and determine the best and most efficient ways to perform such endeavors."

Historically, most biomedical research has been conducted through small, independent projects initiated by individual investigators. But many future projects are likely to involve larger teams of scientists working on complex problems that cannot be addressed by single researchers. Life scientists are concerned that such large projects might reduce the pool of money available for smaller studies and thereby slow the progress of innovation. Because the process of appropriating federal funds is "both complex and treacherous," the report says, NIH should establish guidelines supporting both types of projects.

The success of large, collaborative biomedical projects will depend on attracting high caliber staff to perform and oversee the work. But recruiting might be difficult because traditional career paths for scientists -- especially graduate students and postdoctoral scientists -- require them to build a reputation based on an individual publication record. To provide more incentives for scientists to work on large projects, the report suggests, universities could revise their policies on tenure and promotion to recognize the value of contributions made to collaborative research.

To increase the speed of discoveries and reduce the overall cost of future large-scale projects, the report recommends that academic scientists collaborate more frequently with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and nonprofit organizations. Industry has many inherent strengths, such as experience in coordinating and managing teams of scientists working toward a common goal. One recent example of effective collaboration between the academic and industrial sectors is the Single Nucleotide Polymorphism Consortium -- a public-private effort looking for DNA variations among individuals in order to improve treatment of human disease. The consortium makes its data freely available to scientists around the world.

Although research tools and data derived from large-scale projects should be widely available to scientists, NIH should develop guidelines that would allow researchers to preserve intellectual property rights, the report says. Also, because concerns have been raised in recent years about scientists' willingness and ability to share information and research materials, NIH should provide funds to facilitate the dissemination of these tools.

Before NIH launches any new large-scale projects, the agency should appoint a panel of external experts to assess the potential of proposed studies, the report says. In addition, federal agencies should evaluate ongoing large-scale projects and have a plan to phase out funding for the projects when their goals have been achieved. In the vast majority of cases, the report adds, such projects should not entail establishing longer-term infrastructures such as institutes or centers at NIH.

The report was sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. The Institute of Medicine and National Research Council are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering. A committee roster follow.

Copies of Large-Scale Biomedical Science -- Exploring Strategies for Future Research are available from the National Academies Press for $47.95 (prepaid) plus shipping charges of $4.50 for the first copy and $.95 for each additional copy; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or order on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

[ This announcement and the report are available at http://national-academies.org ]


INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE
and
Division on Earth and Life Studies
National Cancer Policy Board

Committee on Large-Scale Science and Cancer Research

Joseph V. Simone, M.D. (chair)
Independent Consultant
Dunwoody, Ga.

Bruce W. Stillman, Ph.D. (vice chair)
Director
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.

Ellen Stovall (vice chair)
Executive Director
National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship
Silver Spring, Md.

Diana Petitti, M.D. (vice chair)
Director of Research & Evaluation
Kaiser Permanente of Southern California
Pasadena

Jill Bargonetti, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Hunter College
New York City

Barry Bozeman, Ph.D.
Regents Professor of Public Policy, and
Director of the State Data and Research Center
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta

Tim Byers, M.D., M.P.H.
Professor of Epidemiology and Associate Director
University of Colorado Cancer Center
University of Colorado School of Medicine
Denver

Tom Curran, Ph.D.
Chairman
Department of Developmental Neurobiology
St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital
Memphis, Tenn.

Timothy Eberlein, M.D.
Bixby Professor and Chairman
Department of Surgery
Washington University School of Medicine
St. Louis

David Galas, Ph.D.
Chief Academic Officer and Norris Professor of Applied Life Sciences
Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences
Claremont, Calif.

Karen Hersey, J.D.
Senior Intellectual Property Counsel
Office of Intellectual Property Counsel
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge

Daniel J. Kevles, Ph.D.
Professor
Department of History
Yale University
New Haven, Conn.

Lauren Linton, Ph.D, M.B.A.
President
Linton Consulting
Lincoln, Mass.

William W. McGuire, M.D.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
UnitedHealth Group
Minnetonka, Minn.

John Mendelsohn, M.D.
President
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
University of Texas
Houston

Kathleen H. Mooney, Ph.D.
Professor and Peery Presidential Endowed Chair in Nursing Research
University of Utah College of Nursing
Salt Lake City

Nancy Mueller, Sc.D.
Professor of Epidemiology
Department of Epidemiology
Harvard School of Public Health
Boston

Patricia A. Nolan, M.D., M.P.H.
Director
Rhode Island Department of Health
Providence

Cecil B. Pickett, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President
Discovery Research
Schering Plough Institute
Kenilworth, N.J.

Stephen Prescott, M.D.
Executive Director
H.A. and Edna Benning Presidential Chair in Human Molecular Biology & Genetics
Huntsman Cancer Institute
University of Utah
Salt Lake City

Louise B. Russell, Ph.D.
Research Professor of Economics
Institute for Health
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, N.J.

Thomas J. Smith, M.D., F.A.C.P. Professor
Division of Hematology
Medical College of Virginia
Virginia Commonwealth University
Richmond

Susan Weiner, Ph.D.
President
The Children's Cause
Silver Spring, Md.

Robert C. Young, M.D.
President
American Cancer Society and the Fox Chase Cancer Center
Philadelphia

STAFF

Sharyl Nass, Ph.D.
Study Director