January 31, 2014
Our School of Medicine research faculty is highly innovative and productive. Our contributions to OHSU and to human health are profound. Total funding to the School of Medicine's research mission from all sources – excluding philanthropy – was $229 million last year, of which about 75 percent is from federal sources. In a recent ranking, the School of Medicine is number 19 in the nation in National Institutes of Health research funding. Given the high degree of competition and the rigorous peer-review process to obtain this federal funding, this outcome is a testament to the critically important research underway within the School of Medicine and throughout OHSU, across the spectrum of basic, translational and clinical.
However, in recent years, due largely to the interplay of economic and political forces, appropriations for funding for biomedical research have become less predictable (see this data on historical trends at NIH). Simultaneously, the model for science is changing with a growing focus on team-based science, alongside the more traditional emphasis on individual investigators. In parallel, ideas are emerging as part of a growing national conversation about how changes to the funding model itself might better support collaborative science and innovation. Here is a an article about a collective allocation model, for example.
As we navigate this new and continually shifting terrain, a priority goal for the School of Medicine is to work together to transition to a more diverse research funding portfolio in ways that both enhance our capacity for team-based science and provide a stable platform for our research faculty. I've had the opportunity recently to talk with many of our faculty – as well as our chairs, research leaders and advisors from outside OHSU – as I've sought input and advice on ways to meet our school goal of portfolio diversification.
Regarding current trends, I heard a great deal of concern about the impact on a lab when funding is eliminated or decreased significantly – data and programs that are tantalizingly close to an important discovery or cure may never be recovered. Our faculty members are also gravely concerned about "brain-drain" as young investigators are discouraged from academic research careers due to the difficulty of securing scarce grants, a concern we all share. And, almost everyone echoed fears articulated in this video by NIH Director Francis Collins, Ph.D., that an unstable funding climate discourages innovation.
The ideas deriving from our research community to meet these challenges are thoughtful, focused and multi-faceted. They include developing new support mechanisms for collaborative teams seeking philanthropic investment and industry partnerships; providing new internal seed grants to help incubate innovative ideas that increase competitiveness for external investment; pursuing other federal granting agencies; removing institutional barriers to non-federal awards, among others. We are analyzing and executing on many of these ideas as we make progress on a multi-faceted approach and continue our discussions with faculty and others.
However, it's important to stay focused on the fact that NIH will always be a main source of funding for biomedical research. And while we've been undertaking this work, I've been pleased to see a groundswell of support for the NIH, due in no small part to the outreach of Dr. Collins and many others, including OHSU, in a quest to help the public understand the importance of stable biosciences funding.
In closing, I remind us all that public outreach is something we all can – must – do continuously. Talk to your neighbors, your colleagues, your family, and your local, state and federal elected officials. Explain the role of public funding in finding cures. Share information about our collective impact on human health. We each have a vital responsibility in ensuring that leaders and the public understand the important work of our research faculty and its application to individual lives. Our advocacy matters.
Mark Richardson, M.D., MBA
Dean, OHSU School of Medicine
President, Faculty Practice Plan