BWF Concludes Five Year Plan

At the Board meeting of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund in February 2010, the planning for the next five years was concluded  This set of initiatives and proposed actions were the result of a year-long process of strategic planning.  

BWF’s mission remains unchanged -- to advance the biomedical sciences by supporting research and other scientific and educational activities.  It will continue to fund areas considered important, yet underfunded, while emphasizing career development in those areas.  The majority of BWF’s grantmaking will be in the competitive programs (Career Awards for Medical Scientists, Career Awards at the Scientific Interface, Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease, etc).  Other funds will be awarded to catalyze areas of interest or to advance science and education through support for meetings, policy, and other activities.

One significant change to the Fund’s outlook is that the Clinical Scientist in Translational Research award has been discontinued.  Since translational research has been emphasized by the federal government and backed by large amounts of funding, the Board felt there was not significant need in this particular area.

Looking at individual program areas, the Board concluded the following:

Career Awards at the Scientific Interfaces (CASI)

This innovative program has helped to stimulate increasing recognition of and support for the integration of physical, computational, and mathematical scientists and engineers into the biological sciences.  Continued support for the program was endorsed, with the expectation that the application process would be open to a larger candidate pool.  To that end, beginning in June, the program will not require institutional nominations from applicants.

Career Awards in Medical Sciences (CAMS)

The Board was pleased with the success of this relatively new program and recommended that it continue as presently constituted, acknowledging that a number of the successful applicants will likely be involved in translational research.

Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Diseases (PATH)

The PATH award is a valued opportunity for young investigators to tackle questions that arise regarding interactions between microbes and their hosts.  Defining how the program sits within the context of national and international investments in several important diseases will be an ongoing activity.

Reproductive Sciences 

Although BWF has had a long-term involvement in this area through its support of meetings, Marine Biological Laboratory courses, and a few fellowships, the Board specifically endorsed the grants program now underway in preterm birth with the expectation that several other grants programs will be conducted between now and 2013 when the overall program will be reviewed.

Science Education

The Student Science Enrichment Program (SSEP) has successfully reached a large number of North Carolina precollege students and teachers.  The program will continue in its present form.  This year was the first for the Career Awards for Science and Mathematics Teachers, and the Board supported its continuation.

Translational Research

The Board voted to terminate the well-respected Clinical Scientist Career Awards in Translational Research (TRANS), feeling that the large increase in federal and other funding for this area meant that it was no longer underfunded.  The Fund will though continue to provide modest ad hoc grant support as part of our long-term interest in this area.

Unifying Population and Laboratory Sciences (PUP)

This new program has made only one awards cycle.  In the next five years it is expected that the program will make an additional seven awards in various topical areas that combine different disciplines working together from population and laboratory-based perspectives.

The Board also looked at the North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Center (SMT Center).  Although not exclusively a BWF activity, the Fund provides office space and much of its funding. The Board was pleased with the SMT Center’s ability to effectively convene groups interested in education and then translate this interest into the strengthening of science and mathematics education in North Carolina.

In addition, the Board reconfirmed the importance of using ad hoc grants to stimulate or explore new or developing scientific areas.  The success of using modest funding to catalyze new areas was noted, as well as smaller grants for meetings, symposia, studies, travel, etc.  Ideas such as One Health, an expansion of the biological curriculum to make it more quantitative, a course to give non-biological scientists a sense of what is important and why in biology, and stimulating technology and technique development were all advanced as possible places where catalytic funding might be important.