Baldwin, Collins Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen America’s Commitment to the Next Generation of Researchers Clears Key Senate Hurdle

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The bipartisan Next Generation (NextGen) Researchers Act (S.2014), authored by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin and Susan Collins (R-ME), was unanimously approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee this morning. At a time when America’s young researchers are facing a difficult funding environment, this bipartisan legislation builds opportunities for new researchers, helps address the debt burden that young researchers face today, and invests in the future of research, science, and innovation.

Senators Baldwin and Collins’ legislation would create the “Next Generation Researchers Initiative” within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of the Director to coordinate all current and new NIH policies aimed at promoting opportunities for new researchers and earlier research independence.  In addition, the legislation directs the NIH to consider recommendations from a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) comprehensive study and report on fostering the next generation of researchers that Senators Baldwin and Collins included in the recently passed Consolidated Appropriations Act. The bill must now be considered by the full Senate. 

"In order for America to out-innovate the rest of the world and create an economy built to last, we must protect and strengthen our investments in research, science, and innovation," said Senator Baldwin.  “We can’t accomplish this without supporting and investing in the next generation of researchers.  Our best and brightest minds deserve to know that our country stands with them. This bipartisan legislation demonstrates a commitment to our future scientists by improving their opportunities at NIH and builds off Wisconsin’s proud tradition of being a leader in this field.”

“This bipartisan bill strengthens our nation’s commitment to the next generation of cutting-edge researchers,” said Senator Collins.  “Maintaining our nation’s competitive edge in both research and innovation depends greatly on the strength of our commitment to attracting, cultivating, and equipping world-class scientific minds.  This critical investment will help to empower these young innovative researchers in Maine and across our country with the resources they need to continue to lead the world in groundbreaking scientific research and development.”

“As a young scientist myself, I know firsthand the challenges of committing to a career in research,” said Audra Sterling, a University of Wisconsin-Madison Assistant Professor whose work focuses on the language and cognitive development of individuals with developmental disabilities. "The Next Generation Researchers Act will encourage young researchers to pursue scientific knowledge and discovery.”

“The Medical College of Wisconsin strongly supports the Next Generations Researchers Act, introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin. This legislation recognizes the commitment and investment our nation must make in the next generation of bright, young scientists. The United States needs this infrastructure of financial support to build the scientific careers that hold the promise for tomorrow’s discoveries," said Medical College of Wisconsin President and CEO John Raymond, Sr., MD.

“We applaud Senator Baldwin’s long-standing commitment to federal investment in biomedical research, and her bipartisan efforts to support early career scientists. Her commitment is crucial to the University’s ongoing success in delivering ground-breaking discoveries to meet tomorrow’s health challenges,” said Marsha Mailick, Vice-Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“We are deeply grateful to Senator Baldwin and her work on the Next Generation Researchers Act, which includes a new provision to raise the amount of debt that can be forgiven for promising young scientists,” said Robert Golden, Dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Here in Wisconsin, we see great promise in the next generation of biomedical researchers – and this bill offers new tools to nurture that promise.”

Read what industry experts in Wisconsin and across the country are saying about the NextGen Researchers Act here.

NIH supported research has unlocked the potential of stem cells, expanded our molecular understanding of cancers, and mapped the human genome.  These remarkable breakthroughs in science have improved health, saved lives, and created jobs.  The average age of a first-time NIH grant recipient is 42 years old, however, up from 36 in 1980.  In addition, more biomedical Ph.D.s linger in postdoctoral training for five to eight years before achieving research independence.  Without action, talented young scientists may decide to do something else, or leave the country to pursue their research.  Scientific and medical innovation depends on our ability to foster and support the best and brightest scientific minds, and our researchers deserve to know that our country stands with them.

Groundbreaking research supported by the NIH alone adds millions of dollars to Wisconsin’s economy every year:

  • Wisconsin institutions received $17 million in NIH grants in FY14 to train the next generation of innovative scientists.
  • A total of 27 Wisconsin businesses received NIH funding totaling $16 million for the research and development of technologies with potential commercial applications.
  • Wisconsin is home to 1,391 bioscience business establishments. In 2012, residents held 31,758 bioscience industry jobs, and the average annual wage in the bioscience sector was $30,855 higher than the private sector overall.

Learn more about the impact of NIH funding on the state of Wisconsin here.

The bipartisan NextGen Researchers Act demonstrates a commitment to our nation’s young scientists by improving opportunities for our next generation of researchers at the NIH.  The bill would:

Create the Next Generation of Researchers Initiative within the NIH Office of the Director.

  • The Initiative will coordinate existing efforts within NIH and will be charged with directing all current and new NIH policies aimed at promoting opportunities for new researchers and earlier research independence.
  • Current NIH policies that have helped early-stage investigators (ESI) include the Pathway to Independence Award, which provides mentorship and independent research support to new investigators; the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, which supports exceptionally creative new investigators; and ESI grant review procedures, which ensure that new investigators have a fair shot to succeed.
  • New policies will include improving mentorship between veteran and new researchers, expanding workforce diversity, improving workforce data collection and improving success in renewal funding (only 1-in-6 investigators succeed in receiving a second NIH grant.)

Build on a comprehensive study and report on fostering the next generation of researchers.

  • Directs the NIH Initiative to consider recommendations from a NAS report included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act evaluating barriers for entry into biomedical research for early-stage scientists and new investigators.
  • The study will evaluate current NIH policies; other legislative, administrative, educational and cultural barriers to providing for a strong, diverse next generation of researchers; and the impact of Sequestration and budget constraints on the biomedical workforce.
  • NAS will issue recommendations to Congress and NIH on how to improve and sustain careers in biomedical research for new investigators and to promote earlier research independence.

Increase the amount of loans that can be forgiven through the NIH’s loan repayment program. 

  • This was a recommendation by the NIH’s Physician-Scientist Working Group.

This bill is supported by: AcademyHealth, American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC), American Association for Dental Researchers (AADR), American Heart Association, American Society of Transplantation (AST), Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), BioForward, Inc., Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), Medical College of Wisconsin, Research!America, University of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).