New EU Policy Support Facility Will Focus On National Research and Innovation Systems

Earlier this week the European Commission announced that a Policy Support Facility will assist European Union member states in reviewing and reforming their national innovation and research systems (H/T ScienceInsider).  The Policy Support Facility is one of several programs intended to boost science and technology capacity in member states, all as part of Horizon 2020.  The Facility will have a budget endowment of up to 20 million Euros until 2020.

Bulgaria is the first member state to take advantage of the Policy Support Facility.  It will have several senior experts and researchers conduct a “Peer Review of Bulgaria” and provide advice in three areas: public funding of research, science careers, and knowledge transfer from academia to business.

Hungary has expressed interested in using the Policy Support Facility, and the Commission will support a country peer review for it later in the year.  Other countries have expressed interest in working with the Facility as well.

HHS Expands Open Access Beyond NIH

Last week the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the parent agency of the National Institutes of Health, The Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control (among others) announced its open access policies for research it funds (H/T The Scientist).  The policies are expected to come into effect by the end of this year.

As you might expect, the other HHS agencies subject to the open access policy (a minimum of $100 million in annual research funding) will follow the lead of the National Institutes of Health.  Articles resulting from federally funded research must be deposited in PubMed Central within 12 months of publication.  For digital data, it will have to be available at the time any articles are published.  Researchers must submit a digital management plan as part of their initial research grant application.  According to the HHS Secretary, the infrastructure for this part of the plan is still emerging.  Ultimately the Department wants to link an internal data management system to healthdata.gov.

Bioethics Commission Finds National Ebola Response Lacking

Earlier today the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released a brief (90 pages, so your mileage may vary), Ethics and Ebola.  The report is intended to provide an assessment of the current Ebola outbreak (particularly of the response to cases diagnosed in the U.S.) and recommendations for becoming better prepared for future outbreaks.

The report’s recommendations cover how to prepare for outbreaks, ethical reasons for intervention in outbreaks, guiding principles for deciding to use restrictive public health measures (such as quarantines), and how to conduct research (if warranted) in outrbeak situations.  The recommendations are summarized below: Continue reading

Gain-Of-Function Research ‘Pause’ Continues, With Concerns

ScienceInsider has an update on the review of gain-of-function (GOF) research currently underway at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  The moratorium was announced last October and is supposed to last for one year.  It covers federal funding for research that would make influenza, MERS or SARS viruses more virulent or easier to transmit.

Reportedly the agency is close to signing a contract with a private company for a risk-benefit analysis.  But, as you might expect with any restriction imposed on active scientific research, there is concern about what NIH has been doing.  Two researchers, Sir Richard Roberts and David Relman, sent the Chairman of the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity a letter expressing their concerns over the process by which the pause and review have been conducted.  They would prefer a more open, Asilomar-style conference where scientists and other experts in the area of gain-of-function research would meet to discuss issues and develop a set of guidelines to influence research moving forward.  They are concerned about what appears to be a lack of transparency to the process, limited (if any) opportunities for public input, possible conflicts of interest (the NIH funds much GOF), a lack of risk assessment experience in the Board, and a very U.S.-centric focus.

February Bioethics Commission Meeting Tackled Medical Emergencies

The Presidential Commission on Bioethical Issues met earlier this month in Washington, D.C.  The meeting focused on two major topics – medical emergency research and neuroscience.  The first day dealt with medical emergency research and was heavily influenced by the ongoing Ebola epidemic in west Africa.  The Commission heard from researchers, public health personnel and practitioners on the epidemic in Africa, efforts intended to prevent the spread of the virus in the United States, and the ethical issues associated with research on something like Ebola during an epidemic or other medical emergency.

The Commission is conducting a review of the U.S. response to the Ebola epidemic, with a focus on three issues:

  • The ethics of placebo-control trials in the context of public health emergencies;
  • The ethics of U.S. public policies that restrict association or movement; and
  • The ethical considerations relevant to collecting and storing biospecimens during a public health emergency and sharing them for future research.

On the second day, the meeting shifted to the Commission’s ongoing work in neuroscience.  The Commission intends to release volume two of its report Gray Matters sometime in the spring.  Volume 1 was released in May 2014, and focused on the integration of ethics into neuroscience education.  Volume 2 will tackle neural modifications, neuroscience in the legal system, and how neural capacity can affect the ability to consent in neuroscience research.

The next meeting will take place in Philadelphia May 27 and 28.

So Now There’s A Federal Data Scientist

February 20 – Edited to reflect Dr. Patil’s proper title.  I suppose I was projecting when I erroneously wrote that he would be a Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Privacy.

ORIGINAL POST

Earlier today Federal Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith announced that the Administration has named Dr. DJ Patil as Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy Privacy and Chief Data Scientist.  Patil has been a data scientist for most of his career, which includes work in academia, government and the private sector.  He is credited as one of the people who coined the term data scientist.  He comes to the White House from RelateIQ, where he was Vice President of Product.

Much like with the Chief Technology Officer position, The White House gives the Chief Data Scientist a broad set of responsibilities.  From the announcement:

“As Chief Data Scientist, DJ will help shape policies and practices to help the U.S. remain a leader in technology and innovation, foster partnerships to help responsibly maximize the nation’s return on its investment in data, and help to recruit and retain the best minds in data science to join us in serving the public. DJ will also work on the Administration’s Precision Medicine Initiative, which focuses on utilizing advances in data and health care to provide clinicians with new tools, knowledge, and therapies to select which treatments will work best for which patients, while protecting patient privacy.”

Patil will also work on the government’s efforts in open data and data science.  The initial press surrounding the announcement has focused on the data scientist part of Patil’s job title.  What could prove interesting is how much time he will spend on the data privacy part of that title.

International Network For Government Science Advice Ready To Work

Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Adviser to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, has been at the AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose, California.  Following his activities there, I found out about the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA).  The network can be traced back to the international science advice conference held last August in Auckland, New Zealand.

The focus of the INGSA is to serve as a forum for sharing and discussing research and experience in providing science advice to governments.  It is part of the International Council of Science, and the secretariat is presently hosted with Sir Peter in Auckland.  The INGSA’s Network Development Group reflects a diversity of countries and a mix of academic and practitioner experience.

Expect INGSA to leverage other international meetings for opportunities to convene side gatherings.  It would also develop its own events as it sees fit, with a follow up to the 2014 conference presumably on a list of future activities.