NIH is counting on new programs to strengthen the nation’s biomedical research effort by addressing two major hurdles—the glut of data from next-generation sequencing, and the academic job squeeze that has too many biopharma postdocs chasing too few academic jobs.
The agency will launch Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K), a program designed to facilitate broader use of biomed big data. As part of that program, NIH envisions creating proposed new big data “centers of excellence” that will combines agency funds and investigators from existing universities somewhat along the lines of the existing program to build biomedical computing infrastructure, focused on systems biology, image processing, biophysical modeling, biomedical ontologies, information integration, and tools for gene-phenotype and disease analysis.
“The proposed Centers of Excellence will be modeled after the National Centers for Biomedical Computing, with modifications based on the experiences from this program,” NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., told GEN. “Resources for the data and informatics initiatives, including the proposed Centers of Excellence, will be funded by a shared commitment from all of the NIH Institutes and Centers. The Common Fund will also contribute resources to this important work.”
Other BD2K initiatives will entail improving data and software sharing policies, catalogs of research data, and data/metadata standards; developing methods of data analysis, software development and dissemination; and boosting training for big data professionals.
Also on the big data front, NIH will also launch InfrastructurePlus, an adaptive environment designed to advance high-performance computing, as well as more agile hosting and storage, through modernization of the agency’s computer network.
“The cost of the BD2K and InfrastructurePlus initiatives together is estimated at approximately $125 million a year via contributions from the Institutes and Centers,” Dr. Tabak said.
The programs would be another example of NIH having to fund its priorities through existing funds rather than counting on more money, especially now as the agency, like other nondefense agencies, facing 8.2% across-the-board cuts if the federal government heads over the proverbial fiscal cliff. Even if it doesn’t, the required spending cut—$1.2 trillion over 10 years—may be enough to minimize new initiatives or, worse for NIH, ultimately sink them.
Dr. Tabak noted that neither big data initiative will require the sort of reorganization NIH undertook a year ago, when it shifted funds and operations to launch the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) with a first-year budget of about $576.5 million.