Sunday, October 21, 2012

NIH Request for Input into the Scientific Strategic plan for the new substance use disorders research Institute: analysis of results now is available.

Earlier this year, NIH invited the public to comment on which scientific opportunities and public health needs should be included as part of the strategic plan for the new substance use disorders research Institute.  A Request for Information (RFI) was issued inviting suggestions for priority areas of focus for the new Institute.  The RFI specifically requested feedback on a preliminary list of 13 scientific research opportunities and insufficiently addressed public health needs.  The preliminary list was developed by the strategic planning committee charged with drafting a plan for the new Institute, and can be found here.
In June, NIH posted comments received in response to the RFI here.
NIH contracted Ripple Effect Communications, Inc., to review and provide an independent analysis of responses.
Five hundred responses were received during the 3-month comment period, 470 of which were considered unique and responsive to the RFI.  Most of the responses (80%) were submitted by individuals with the balance submitted on behalf of institutions.  Over a thousand different comments were extracted as part of the analysis.  More than half (52%) related to research topics considered priorities, with most comments related to alcohol research and development/progression of addiction disorders research.  The analysis resulted in a 35-page report and 4 appendices, which can be downloaded in PDF form here.
Respondents generally endorsed the preliminary 13-item list presented for comment, and specifically endorsed several items for inclusion in the focus of the new Institute, including:
·       Tobacco use and co-morbidity
·       Designing clinical trials that accurately reflect real-world conditions
·       Understanding the implications of policy research on substance use patterns and trajectories, especially in youth.
·       Enhancing stakeholder interest in developing medications to treat various addictions, including nicotine and alcohol.
Several common themes emerged including:
·       Suggestions that funding allocations should match public health burdens of disease
·       A better balance should be struck in terms of support for biological/biomedical and behavioral/psychosocial approaches
·       Concern that alcohol-related research, if moved to disease-specific Institutes, would be considered lower priorities and receive reduced funding.

With regard to that last point, one comment conveyed an impression that alcohol-related research, when reviewed by certain NIH study sections, was considered lower priority research (report page 13; full comment ID #118).
This concern could extend to research on other substance use disorders and is something that the strategic planning committee will have to consider as they draft the new Institute’s strategic and portfolio integration plans.  The draft plan is anticipated to be released later this year for additional public comment.
The process to form the new Institute seems poised to move forward but with Sequestration looming, will it?
The release of the analysis signals what could become a more active period of the process, at least in terms of public awareness, toward defining, budgeting, and implementing the new substance use disorders Institute.
However, the process could be further delayed or otherwise altered if significant budgetary cuts to NIH occur in January 2013 as a consequence of Sequestration, the process of automatic budget cuts resulting if Congress fails to establish an alternative budget plan by then.
One set of estimates provided by Research!America suggests that Sequestration would induce an automatic 7.8% cut ($2.39 billion) of the current NIH budget (PDF).  This amount is equivalent to about half of the FY11 budget for the National Cancer Institute, the largest NIH Institute, or almost double the amount NIH provided as part of Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Research (SBIR and STTR) programs.  In terms of the 2012 budget, a 7.8% cut is slightly less than the 8.2% budget allocation by NIH for “Other Research, Superfund, Office of the Director”, or the cumulative 7.7% allocation for Research Management and Support, Research Training, and Facilities Construction” (PDF).
Either way, the next few months should be very intriguing for those interested in NIH and in the formation of the new substance use disorders Institute.
CPDDBLOG welcomes CPDD member’s thoughts on these issues.