Check out the NIH’s new Strategic Plan (Yes—behavioral and social science research is featured!)

The National Institutes of Health released its first overall strategic plan in at least twenty years on December 16.  The plan governs the years 2016 – 2020.

In the FY 2015 funding bill, Congress had called for NIH to develop an overall strategic plan as a way to hold the Director accountable for the agency’s priority-setting and scientific progress.  The plan focuses on four interdependent objectives that will help guide NIH’s priorities over the next five years. The objectives are:

  1. Advance opportunities in biomedical research in fundamental science, treatment and cures, and health promotion and disease prevention;
  2. Foster innovation by setting NIH priorities to enhance nimbleness, consider burden of disease and value of permanently eradicating a disease, and advance research opportunities presented by rare diseases;
  3. Enhance scientific stewardship by recruiting and retaining an outstanding biomedical research workforce, enhancing workforce diversity and impact through partnerships, ensuring rigor and reproducibility, optimizing approaches to inform funding decisions, encouraging innovation, and engaging in proactive risk management practices; and
  4. Excel as a federal science agency by managing for results by developing the “science of science,” balancing outputs with outcomes, conducting workforce analyses, continually reviewing peer review, evaluating steps to enhance rigor and reproducibility, reducing administrative burden, and tracking effectiveness of risk management in decision making.

The plan concludes with a list of some specific achievements and advances that the agency will strive to deliver over the next five years. Some of the aspirations or predictions are:

  • Many thousands of cancer patients will experience enhanced survival from application of precision medicine.
  • A candidate vaccine that induces a broad antibody-binding response to multiple strains of the influenza virus will be in clinical trials — a critical step toward a universal flu vaccine.
  • NIH-supported research will develop effective, tailored behavioral and social interventions to promote health and prevent illness in populations that experience health disparities.
  • A pivotal efficacy trial of a novel HIV vaccine, expected to begin in the Republic of South African in 2016, will confer at least 50% protection against the acquisition of HIV.
  • Application of certain mobile health (mHealth) technologies will provide rigorous evidence for their use in enhancing health promotion and disease prevention.
  • A wearable biosensor for monitoring blood-alcohol levels in real time will be developed and show efficacy for preventing alcohol-related injury and disease.

Examples of behavioral research featured in the plan include an explanation of basic behavioral and social sciences research (p. 15), health promotion (p. 23) and healthy development (p. 24.) “…NIH will continue to support research into the basic mechanisms of development and aging in healthy individuals. This will include intensifying studies of “resilience”-- that is, to understand why some individuals’ bodies age more slowly and/or are better able to resist disease risks posed by particular genetic, lifestyle and/or environmental factors. NIH will also strive to develop tools to enhance measurement of physical, social and environmental exposures as well as to assess the impacts of such exposures on development, health and longevity.”