NEI Director Dr. Sieving Updates the Audacious Goals Initiative (AGI)

NEI Director Dr. Sieving Updates the Audacious Goals Initiative (AGI)

Legislative Update
June 12, 2014

Paul Sieving, M.D., Ph.D.

On June 12 at the National Advisory Eye Council (NAEC) meeting and on May 7 at the ARVO Annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, National Eye Institute (NEI) Director Paul Sieving, M.D., Ph.D. updated a capacity crowd on the NEI Challenge to Identify Audacious Goals in Vision Research and Blindness Rehabilitation. In 2013, the NEI announced the primary AG of Regenerating Neurons and Neural Connections in the Eye and Visual System and identified two high-priority research areas Molecular Therapy for Eye Disease and Intersection of Aging and Biological Mechanisms of Eye Disease.

Highlights of Dr. Sieving’s presentation include:

  • NEI is creating a new AGI Office, which will take its direction from the NAEC and the vision community, specifically though a new AGI Steering Committee composed of five individuals who will rotate over time. Dr. Sieving announced NAEVR/AEVR Board member John Dowling, Ph.D. (Harvard University) as the Chair, with two other members announced to-date: Pamela Raymond, Ph.D. (University of Michigan) and Mark Blumenkranz, M.D. (Stanford University School of Medicine). The Steering Committee’s responsibilities will be to:
    • Advise on scientific trajectory
    • Evaluate progress
    • Make course adjustments, as needed
    • Remain flexible as science changes
    • Use transparent processes
    • Ensure collaborative, integrative, and cross-disciplinary science

  • On April 23, NEI released a request for applications (RFA) associated with the primary AG entitled Addressing Technical Needs and Opportunities for Imaging the Visual System, which it discussed in a June 5 Webcast. Letters of intent are due July 14, applications are due August 14, and NAEC review will be held in 2015. NEI intends to fund 4-6 awards of up to $1 million each, for a total of $5-$6 million of FY2015 funding. In 2103, NEI also issued program announcements for R01s addressing the two high-priority areas of research.
  • Dr. Sieving addressed the nature of these grants as compared to the traditional investigator-initiated research through the R01 process. “These are not your grandfather’s RO1s in the sense that you give money for five years and see results at the end. This will be a very collaborative, dynamic process that will likely use new mechanisms (for example, the NIH ‘U’ mechanism), but nothing has been ruled out or in.”
  • Depending on the mechanism used, review will be either by NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR) or NEI programmatic staff. Irrespective of the review process, these grants will likely be considered differently than R01s, due to a unique risk/reward paradigm.
  • Dr. Sieving emphasized that “there is no flight from R01s at NEI since they also remain key to the AGI, parallel to this concerted effort.” He stated that in the future, the AGI may account for upwards of 10 percent of the NEI’s extramural research budget, although he did not specify a timeframe.

In its written testimony to Congress regarding Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 NEI funding, NAEVR has cited Dr. Sieving’s comments about the AGI, made at AEVR’s February 25 20th Anniversary Congressional Reception. Dr. Sieving spoke about the promise of the primary AG of Regenerating Neurons and Neural Connections in the Eye and Visual System:

“The goals are bold but achievable. They are beyond what medicine currently can do. We are planning for a 10-12-15 year effort to reach these endpoints. Success would transform life for millions of people with eye and vision diseases. It would have major implications for medicine of the future, for vision diseases, and even beyond this, for neurological diseases.”