On July 22, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it was seeking comment on a framework for a five-year, NIH-wide Strategic Plan. The plan, which will ultimately be submitted to Congress and is being generated with input from senior leadership and staff across NIH, is intended to “outline a set of unifying principles to guide NIH in pursuit of its mission” and “highlight major trans-NIH themes” in order to help advance the biomedical research enterprise.

In the framework, NIH identifies three areas of opportunity that apply across biomedicine: (1) the promotion of fundamental science, (2) the improvement of health promotion and disease prevention, and (3) the advancement of treatment and cures. In addition to the crosscutting areas of research, NIH identifies two unifying principles: (1) set NIH priorities, and (2) enhance stewardship. Notably absent from the areas of opportunity and unifying principles identified is an explicit discussion of NIH’s role in promoting the ethical conduct of research.

Recently, PRIM&R’s Public Policy Committee, which is composed of experts from a range of disciplines and institutional settings, responded to NIH’s request with a brief letter. In this response, PRIM&R acknowledges the role that NIH has played in promoting human subjects protections, the ethical conduct of science, and scientific integrity, and asks the Institutes to build on that history and ensure that the centrality of ethics in the research enterprise is reflected in its forthcoming strategic plan.

Specifically, PRIM&R encourages NIH to add the following as a unifying principle in its strategic plan:

Integrate Ethics—NIH integrates ethics, including principles for the ethical conduct of science, robust human and animal subject protections, and scientific integrity, by ensuring that ethics is an integral component of scientific design, the training of scientists, grant and contract review, the sharing, dissemination, and assimilation of research results, and public education.

PRIM&R goes on to note that the success of NIH’s crosscutting objectives “rests on a scientific enterprise that is and appears to be based on ethical principles, including transparency and independence from financial and other outside interests” and that “explicit inclusion of ethics as a unifying principle of the framework will serve as a strong affirmation to the community of scientists that attending to research ethics is not a wasteful ‘burden’ but a means to better and more sustainable research.”

Take a moment to read PRIM&R’s complete response to NIH and to share your thoughts about PRIM&R’s comments or the framework for the NIH-wide Strategic Plan in the comments below.

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