Senators Collins, Baldwin Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen America’s Commitment to the Next Generation of Researchers

Bipartisan Next Generation Researchers Act Focuses on Building Opportunities for New Researchers

  WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a time when America’s young researchers are facing the worst funding in 50 years, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced legislation today to invest in the future of research, science, and innovation. The bipartisan Next Generation (NextGen) Researchers Act would create the “Next Generation Researchers Initiative” within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of the Director to coordinate all current and new NIH policies aimed at promoting opportunities for new researchers and earlier research independence. In addition, the legislation directs the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to conduct a comprehensive study and report on fostering the next generation of researchers.
 
      “This bipartisan bill strengthens our nation’s commitment to the next generation of cutting-edge researchers,” said Senator Collins. “Maintaining our nation’s competitive edge in both research and innovation depends greatly on the strength of our commitment to attracting, cultivating, and equipping world-class scientific minds.  This critical investment will help to empower these young innovative researchers in Maine and across our country with the resources they need to continue to lead the world in groundbreaking scientific research and development.”
 
      NIH supported research has unlocked the potential of stem cells, expanded our molecular understanding of cancers, and mapped the human genome. These remarkable breakthroughs in science have improved health, saved lives and created jobs. But, current policies are putting the brakes on research and innovation, jeopardizing our country’s leadership. Since 2003, the NIH budget has failed to keep up with inflation, decreasing the purchasing power of the NIH by over 22 percent while our global competitors accelerate their research capabilities. And, Sequestration cuts have slashed $1.5 billion from the NIH budget.
 
      This trend is particularly devastating for our nation’s young researchers and has contributed to the stagnation of our biomedical workforce. The average age of a first-time NIH grant recipient is 42 years old— up from 36 in 1980. And, now more biomedical PhDs linger in postdoctoral training for five to eight years before achieving research independence. Without action, talented young scientists may decide to do something else, or leave the country to pursue their research. Scientific and medical innovation depends on our ability to foster and support the best and brightest scientific minds, and our researchers deserve to know that our country stands with them.
 
      In March 2015 testimony before Congress, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins highlighted the current challenges facing young researchers saying, “This is the issue that wakes me up at night when I try to contemplate the future of where biomedical research can go in the United States. They are finding themselves in a situation that is the least supportive of that vision in 50 years. They look ahead of them and see the more senior scientists struggling to keep their labs going and suffering rejection after rejection of grants that previously would have been supportive. And they wonder, 'Do we really want to sign up for that?' And many of them, regrettably, are making the decision to walk away.”
 
      The bipartisan NextGen Researchers Act demonstrates a commitment to our nation’s young scientists by improving opportunities for our next generation of researchers at the NIH. The bill would:
 
      Create the Next Generation of Researchers Initiative within the NIH Office of the Director.

  • The Initiative will coordinate existing efforts within NIH and will be charged with directing all current and new NIH policies aimed at promoting opportunities for new researchers and earlier research independence.
  • Current NIH policies that have helped early-stage investigators (ESI) include the Pathway to Independence Award,      which provides mentorship and independent research support to new investigators; the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, which supports exceptionally creative new investigators; and ESI grant review procedures, which ensure that new investigators have a fair shot to      succeed.
  • New policies will include improving mentorship between veteran and new researchers, expanding workforce diversity, improving workforce data collection and improving success in renewal funding (only 1-in-6 investigators succeed in receiving a second NIH grant.)

       Conduct a comprehensive study and report on fostering the next generation of researchers.

  • Directs the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to produce a report evaluating barriers for entry into biomedical research for early-stage scientists and new investigators.
  • The study will evaluate current NIH policies; other legislative, administrative, educational and cultural barriers to providing for a strong, diverse next generation of researchers; and the impact of Sequestration and budget constraints on the biomedical workforce.
  • NAS will issue recommendations to Congress and NIH on how to improve and sustain careers in biomedical research for new      investigators and to promote earlier research independence.

      This bill is supported by: AcademyHealth, American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC), American Association for Dental Researchers (AADR), American Heart Association, American Society of Transplantation (AST), Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), BioForward, Inc., Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), Medical College of Wisconsin, Research!America, and University of Wisconsin.