The National Institute of General Medical Sciences at NIH intends its recently announced Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB) to provide a single focus for its activities at the interface of biology and computing, said NIGMS director Marvin Cassman.
“This is a major opportunity to contribute to a rapidly evolving area of science,” Cassman told BioInform.
NIH programs fall into two major categories. In the intramural programs, research activities are conducted in the institutes themselves. Each institute also acts as a funding agency, with extramural programs providing grants to outside investigators and research facilities. At NIH, much of the intramural work in bioinformatics and computational biology takes place under the auspices of the National Center for Biotechnology Information within the National Library of Medicine. As an extramural program, the CBCB “will certainly be complementary” to the NCBI, Cassman said.
“The new center is intended primarily to provide a single point of contact for the general medicine programs,” Cassman said. These programs include a major effort in structural genomics and a new initiative in pharmacogenetics. Other institutes at NIH also fund bioinformatics and computational biology research related to their particular mission, he added. For example, the National Cancer Institute began implementing its Center for Bioinformatics in February.
CBCB funds will be awarded for projects in areas such as mathematical modeling, simulation, and bioinformatics tools. The center will also fund research training and fellowships and sponsor workshops, courses, and meetings.
In addition to its role within NIGMS, the CBCB will also assume oversight of the NIH-wide Biomedical Information Science and Technology Initiative (BISTI), managed by the BISTI Consortium, a group of executives from NIH institutes and other federal agencies. This coordinating role was formerly handled in the Office of the Director at NIH. BISTI was established as a forum for agencies funding bioinformatics and computational biology programs to discuss the best use of resources and avoid duplication of effort.
The CBCB will subsume the Quantitative Approaches to the Analysis of Complex Systems program established in 1998, with awards controlled by a number of NIGMS branches. “Training and research support have increased; it’s now time to consolidate the program within the institute,” Cassman said.
Overall funding levels for the CBCB have not yet been firmly established, and Cassman declined to provide an estimated figure, saying it was still under discussion by an internal committee. He described the funding envelope as “flexible,” saying that it would depend on the number and quality of applications received for CBCB programs. The Centers of Excellence in Complex Biomedical Systems Research program, for which a solicitation was posted in January, is expected to provide grants of up to $2 million per year in direct costs for five years.
“I expect this area to grow,” Cassman said. “It’s clearly one of the major foci of the institute, and will be for several years. The rate of growth will be at least that of the Institute, which is 11 percent this year, and almost certainly higher.”
A director for the new center has not yet been appointed. Cassman said he expects a recruitment announcement to be posted within a few weeks. Meanwhile, James Cassatt, director of the Cell Biology and Biophysics Division at NIGMS and the institute’s BISTI Consortium representative, will be serving as acting director, Cassman said.