By Vincent Lau, Ph.D.
We all know the challenge: Pharmacy institutions—especially those with small research programs—are having difficulty recruiting and retaining promising faculty investigators. What we may not realize—or, at least, like to think about—is this: If the pattern continues, U.S. competitiveness and innovation in biomedical research will suffer and the nation's reputation for making discoveries and improving health will rapidly erode.
The current federal, state and institutional budgets for supporting biomedical research and graduate education are significantly less than they were a decade ago. The pending 2013 budget cuts mandated by the Congressional Budget Control Act of 2011 could further impede the country's momentum regarding biomedical research and graduate education. Many pharmacy schools have already faced tough decisions and identified alternative measures to tighten their operational budgets. This economic situation affects all health professions and makes competition for funding even stiffer in an already inundated research arena.
To address the problem, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) tasked a Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group to develop a model for a sustainable and diverse U.S. biomedical research workforce. The group's goal is to ensure that an optimal number of next-generation scientists will have the necessary resources and training to translate scientific discoveries into new treatments as quickly and effectively as possible to improve health.
In a recently released draft report by the group, recommendations were made to the NIH and its grantee institutions concerning the training of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. Pharmacy should take note too—the group's suggestions would make AACP member institutions and faculty investigators highly competitive for federal funds. The report includes the following recommendations:
Training students in a narrowly defined discipline and submitting research applications with limited scope are unlikely to be sustainable in this environment. The newly created National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at NIH is focusing on linking basic science research with new treatments and clinical care. NCATS will emphasize strengthening collaborations between the biomedical industry and academia to accelerate the time it takes to transform scientific discoveries into viable treatments for patients. NIH also issued a funding opportunity announcement soliciting teams of non-NIH extramural scientists and NIH intramural investigators to conduct collaborative translational research projects. This provides outside scientists with opportunities to establish collaborations and explore potential partnerships with individuals working within NIH.
Available resources will shift to accommodate new initiatives and directions, and pharmacy schools must modify their graduate education programs accordingly. New pharmaceutical scientists should be trained to work in teams and creatively assemble research programs with investigators who understand clinical needs and translate basic findings to clinical practice. This model will ensure a sustainable and diverse research workforce that reflects the growing need for translational science and for pharmaceutical scientists to remain highly competitive for research funding opportunities. As NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., explained, "While NIH will most assuredly continue its strong tradition of supporting basic research, NIH will also forge a new paradigm to revolutionize the science of translation through partnership and speed up the movement of scientific discoveries from the lab to patients."
In the Summer 2012 issue of Academic Pharmacy Now, AACP Vice President of Policy and Advocacy William G. Lang, underscored the importance of intramural and extramural collaborations for securing vital resources and producing successful outcomes in the quality of research, teaching and service. According to data that AACP collected on pharmacy faculty research grants for fiscal year 2011, most of the $365 million principal investigator grants from the NIH and other federal and non-federal research grants have collaborators within or outside the institution. In addition, pharmacy faculty received nearly $50 million solely as collaborative investigators through subcontract arrangement.
The National Institute for Pharmaceutical Technology and Education program, another example of a multi-institutional collaboration, is dedicated to fundamental research and education devoted to pharmaceutical technology and discovery, product development, manufacturing and science-based regulation. This trend will likely continue as most funding agencies encourage collaborative research, which will benefit scientific discovery and health outcomes.
AACP's Office of Research and Graduate Education embraces the concept of teamwork. Its approach is to establish frameworks and programs for AACP institutional and individual members that will allow basic pharmaceutical and clinical pharmacy research investigators to connect, establish mentoring and collaborative relationships, and share ideas and resources (human, intellectual, methodology, equipment, etc.). AACP is creating a database for collecting institutional information on graduate degree programs and aggregated graduate student profiles and career outcomes that the NIH and the Council of Graduate Schools are seeking. This information will also help market graduate degree programs within pharmacy schools.
Pharmacy plays a significant role in fortifying the research pipeline, but to do so the profession must share knowledge, exchange skills and resources, and recognize accomplishments. AACP will continue publishing faculty-funded research projects and disseminating information on pharmacy and pharmaceutical-relevant research funding opportunities. Also in the works is an Academic Research Fellows Program which will not only advance participants' research endeavors, but also allow them to mentor and form teams with colleagues from a broad range of research interests and backgrounds at their home institutions. To learn more about the Association's research activities, visit the AACP Web site at www.aacp.org and click on Resources, then Research.
Vincent Lau, Ph.D., is Vice President of Research and Graduate Education and Chief Science Officer at AACP; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Draft report by the Biomedical Research Workforce Working Grouphttp://acd.od.nih.gov/bmw_report.pdf
National Center for Advancing Translational Scienceshttp://www.ncats.nih.gov/research/reengineering/rescue-repurpose/therapeutic-uses/therapeutic-uses.html
NIH Funding Opportunity Announcement—Collaborative Translational Research Projects http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-HD-12-025.html
The National Institute for Pharmaceutical Technology and Educationhttp://www.nipte.org