OAR Outlines Overarching AIDS Research Priorities; Studies of Behavior and Social Conditions with Multiple Negative Outcomes Deemed Low Priority

At the September 1 meeting of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI) Council of Councils, Acting Associate Director for AIDS Research and Acting Director for the Office of AIDS Research (OAR) Robert Eisinger provided the Council with an update on OAR’s activities, including the recent release of NIH’s high-priority areas of HIV/AIDS research and accompanying guidelines for determining funding for this research (see related story).

Eisinger highlighted NIH director Francis Collins’ August 12 statement extolling the ”extraordinary progress that has been made in HIV/AIDS research over the past 34 years, transforming what was once a terrifying and almost inevitably fatal disease into a treatable disorder.” The NIH recently issued a Notice, NIH HIV/AIDS Research Priorities and Guidelines for Determining AIDS Funding (NOT-OD-15-137), based on the recommendations of an external working group of the OAR Advisory Council in coordination with OAR scientific staff and NIH ICs (see Update, June 16, 2014).

Eisinger emphasized that the guidelines will be used “to determine the priority for receiving AIDS funding not the scientific merit of grants, contracts, and intramural projects.” The guidelines will also be used in standardizing prorating levels of support for projects containing both AIDS and non-AIDS aims and subprojects. Special areas will be considered for priority, including the Clinical and Translation Science Awards (CTSAs), National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs), and Cancer Centers.

The guidelines, however, designate “studies of behaviors (e.g., sexual activities, drug use activities) or social conditions that have multiple negative outcomes where HIV/AIDS is one of many outcomes being studied without a focus on HIV/AIDS is unique in that context” as low priority when it comes to AIDS funding.

Eisinger announced that beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2016, NIH will introduce new OAR processes, including:

  • Revising the Center for Scientific Review Referral Guidelines and restructuring of AIDS Integrated Review Group study sections;
  • Reviewing draft funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) and Request for Proposals (RFPs);
  • Following the FY 2016 appropriation, OAR in consultation with the NIH director may utilize its three percent transfer authority to transfer AIDS funds between ICs;
  • Requiring all new and competing renewal projects (grants and contracts) to be aligned with the highest overarching AIDS priorities; and
  • Prorating all new and competing renewal projects on the basis of their AIDS proportion.

Eisinger recounted that OAR and a panel of IC scientific staff conducted an AIDS portfolio review of all FY 2014 grants, contracts, and intramural projects scheduled to re-compete in FY 2016 with the goal of identifying projects considered “low priority” research. These projects will not be supported with AIDS funding when they re-compete in FY 2016, he explained. The identified associated funds will go into a common, high AIDS-relevance pool. The results of the review will be presented at the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) in December 2015.

In FY 2016, there will also be third and fourth quarter reviews and analysis with the goal to ensure projects are aligned with the highest priorities. OAR staff will review the coding of all new projects reported in the OAR trans-NIH AIDS Research Information System (ARIS) database to ensure appropriate coding. ARIS is used by OAR to facilitate tracking and analysis. Accordingly, OAR requires ICs to report all AIDS-related expenditures, including extramural, intramural, and research management and support, on a quarterly basis, to the database. Expenditures are coded by the ICs to the objective(s) of the annually-mandated Trans-NIH Plan for HIV-Related Research. ARIS serves as the primary resource for AIDS research information in the Research Conditions and Diseases Categorization (RCDC) system. OAR, Eisinger reported, will work with ICs “to resolve any issues of matching to priorities and coding.”

Pointing to the FY 2017 Trans-NIH AIDS budget, Eisinger noted that OAR will provide guidance shortly for development of ICs’ AIDS budget submissions. Each new, re-competing, and expanding initiative will have to be aligned to one or more of the overarching AIDS research portfolios. OAR will develop the NIH AIDS budget in consultation with the NIH director and provide each IC a list of initiatives that will be supported and the associated funding level.

Search for OAR Director

There is currently an ongoing search or a new OAR director. The search committee is being led by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) director Josephine Briggs and National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) director Griffin Rodgers.

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