From the Deputy Director for Intramural Research

Looking Back

Michael Gottesman, who has been the Deputy Director for Intramural Research since November 1994, recently announced that he would be stepping down from that position, but will continue as chief of NCI’s Laboratory of Cell Biology, where his research is focused on multi-drug resistance in cancer cells. The following is a reprint of his first essay in The NIH Catalyst and appeared in its January 1994 issue. He was acting DDIR at the time and was eloquent in describing his passion for making a difference for the intramural research program. Still passionate about NIH’s intramural research program, he plans to remain as DDIR until a replacement is found. A national search will begin soon.

“Intramural Research Program Review Update”

(Reprinted from the January 1994 issue of The NIH Catalyst)

While driving to the laboratory the other night at 2:00 a.m. to deal with a freezer alarm that predicted impending meltdown, I had a chance to ponder the sanity of my decision to divide my time between supervision of research on multidrug resistance in the Laboratory of Cell Biology in NCI and the management of the Intramural Research Program (IRP) at NIH. A major part of this decision was the persuasiveness of our new Director, Dr. Harold Varmus. I had also become involved as Co-chair of the Internal Working Group on the Intramural Program, which has been helping the External Advisory Committee (EAC) to make recommendations to Dr. Varmus about the IRP. The review process has convinced me of the paramount importance of the quality of research at NIH, and the Deputy Director for Intramural Research (DDIR) is the person most responsible for maintaining excellence in our IRP. Knowing that I could make a difference convinced me to accept the job of Acting DDIR.

Another important consideration was that I would become Acting DDIR with the help of my good friend and colleague Lance Liotta, who applied his considerable energy, enthusiasm, and love for the IRP to initiate a series of changes to improve the lot of the bench scientists at NIH. One of his many achievements was developing the NIH tenure-track system which guarantees, for up to six years, the resources needed to cultivate the intellectual independence of our brightest young scientists. The tenure system has now been initiated, and every scientist at NIH should now know his or her status with respect to the tenure process.

Much of my time in the first few weeks on the job has been devoted to co-chairing (with Jay Moskowitz) the Internal Working Group on the Intramural Program, which acts as a fact-finding committee for the EAC. The internal and external committees were set up in July and September to respond to a congressional mandate in the 1993 NIH Appropriations Bill to redefine the “role, size, and cost” of the IRP. This review was prompted in part by the impending expenses related to the needed rejuvenation of the Clinical Center research and hospital facilities, and in part by a perception in the extramural community that the review of intramural research is not as stringent as the review of individual extramural research grants.

The EAC, co-chaired by Dr. Paul Marks of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and Dr. Gail Cassell of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has asked us to provide data in three major areas: l) review of all intramural research, 2) allocation of resources between the intramural and extramural programs of the institutes, and 3) organizational and administrative disincentives to the conduct of top-quality science. Scientists at NIH have been asked to provide written comments on these issues, and I hope you have all taken the time to do this. In addition, we have been assembling options for the renovation or reconstruction of the Clinical Center for review by the EAC.

Knowing that I could make a difference convinced me to accept the job.

In assembling this information, our committee has learned a great deal about the IRP and the differences in style and substance among our various institutes, centers, and divisions. Members of the EAC say they have been impressed by the effort and cooperation of everyone involved in the IRP review, and we are looking forward to their suggestions, which will be contained in a report to Dr. Varmus early in 1994.

Many researchers have expressed concern about increasing limitations on positions and funding for the IRP. Many institutes have had full-time-equivalent staff positions (FTEs) frozen for many months, and Health and Human Services has just instituted a temporary total freeze on new hiring. There is no question that the rapid growth of the IRP has ended for now, but that does not mean that we cannot continue to strengthen our scientific programs and encourage young scientists to come to NIH to develop their laboratory and clinical research ideas. The new tenure-track system reflects a new emphasis by our Scientific Directors on providing a supportive environment for talented new scientists and setting aside resources as they become available for competitive, wide-open recruitment of outstanding investigators. The counsel of the EAC will be extremely useful in ensuring research at NIH remains first-rate, and that we can rejuvenate the institutes, despite limitations on resources.

On campus, Dr. Varmus and I intend to encourage grass-roots efforts by intramural scientists to improve the intellectual atmosphere at NIH. One way we are doing this is by encouraging the development of trans-NIH scientific interest groups to complement the existing groups. For example, the new Cell Biology Interest Group is preparing a catalog of research activities of its members and has launched a seminar series similar to that of the existing Structural Biology, Immunology, and Glycobiology groups. Groups interested in neurobiology and genetics will be coalescing, and plans for an NIH Director’s Seminar Series, consisting of general lectures by recently tenured and tenure-track staff, are underway. To highlight lectures of general interest of this type, the “Yellow Sheet” is undergoing a facelift with some changes in typography and format.

On a more personal note, I would like to tell you how privileged I feel to be able to represent the intramural research community. My respect and affection for this community, my sense of justice and desire for fair treatment of all NIH researchers, my experiences as a bench scientist, and my conviction that no better model for the conduct of creative science exists will guide my future actions.

Incidentally, a little dry ice temporarily solved that problem with the freezer. I also drafted a memo specifying that my colleagues in the laboratory be given priority when it came to late-night calls (we call this “delegation of authority” in Building 1). I wish you all a happy new year, and look forward to working with all of you.