Legislative: 'Bonanza of dollars': Stimulus package expected to benefit skin disease research

May 1, 2009

As a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) - the "stimulus package" - a bonanza of new research money is now available at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and skin disease research is in a position to benefit.

Key Points

That measure provides more than $10 billion in new funding for NIH research projects, and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) has begun to implement its plan to take advantage of its share of that new financial support.

"The ARRA-funded initiatives to date offer a wide range of possibilities for investigators involved in all aspects of arthritis, musculoskeletal and skin diseases research," said Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D., NIAMS director, in a letter announcing funding opportunities under the program.

Challenge grants

As part of the Recovery Act, NIH has designated at least $200 million in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 for a new initiative called the NIH Challenge Grants in Health and Science Research, to fund 200 or more grants - up to $500,000 total costs per year - contingent upon the submission of a sufficient number of scientifically meritorious applications.

In addition, an NIH document explains, Recovery Act funds allocated to NIH specifically for comparative effectiveness research (CER) may be available to support additional grants. Projects must meet this definition: "A rigorous evaluation of the impact of different options that are available for treating a given medical condition for a particular set of patients. Such a study may compare similar treatments, such as competing drugs, or it may analyze very different approaches, such as surgery and drug therapy."

Further, such research "may include the development and use of clinical registries, clinical data networks, and other forms of electronic health data that can be used to generate or obtain outcomes data as they apply to CER."

The new program will support research on Challenge Topics, which address specific scientific and health research challenges in biomedical and behavioral research that will benefit from two-year jump start funds. Challenge Areas, defined by NIH, focus on specific knowledge gaps, scientific opportunities, new technologies, data generation, or research methods that would benefit from an influx of funds to advance the area in significant ways.

The Recovery Act program at NIH also includes a Grand Opportunities initiative, which covers larger-budget projects - greater than $500,000 - that address important topics in the NIAMS mission areas "and open new avenues of discovery through a substantial, short-term investment of ARRA funds," Dr. Katz says.

Ideally, he says, these grants "should catapult a field forward so that new research questions could then be addressed. The forward leap should allow investigators to propose more innovative (and comparative) proposals for research projects in the future."

Dr. Katz says NIAMS encourages the submission of proposals to create or organize something new, "but these proposals should define how this effort will be sustained after the two years of ARRA funding, beyond FY 2020."

Supplemental funds

Three opportunities, released March 18, will provide researchers with supplemental funds that can be used to accelerate the pace of scientific research on active grants and promote job creation and economic development:

• ARRA Competitive Revision Supplements will support new research aims outside the scope of parent awards and will fund a significant expansion of the scope of research protocol of approved and funded projects. Deadline was April 21, 2009.

• ARRA Administrative supplements are for a continuation of aims in parent awards and can be used to cover costs associated with increasing the pace of scientific research or achieving limited new research objectives, as long as they are within the original scope of the parent grant. FY 2009 requests will be received until July 15.

• ARRA Administrative Supplements for Students and Science Educators are for activities within the general scope of current awards. They will encourage students to pursue research careers in the health-related sciences and provide educators with short-term research experiences in NIH-funded laboratories. FY 2009 requests will be received until June 15.

Former congressional aide Bob Gatty covers Washington for businesses specializing in healthcare and related issues. He has written Dermatology Times' Washington Report for more than 20 years, and welcomes comments and suggestions. Mr. Gatty is available at: bob@gattyedits.com

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