The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has released their strategic plan for biomedical data science that will take them through the next five years. The organisation also announced their intentions to hire their first Chief Data Strategist to oversee and implement the plan.

One of the driving forces behind this new strategy is the ever-increasing quantities of genomic data being generated, as well as the need for open and efficient data sharing to advance the science. The report also cites organisational challenges being faced within current data systems that are restricting utility, highlighting a 2016 survey that found data scientists spent 80% of their investigation period organising data instead of analysing it.

“The current biomedical data-resource ecosystem is challenged by a number of organizational problems that create significant inefficiencies for researchers, their institutions, funders, and the public. For example, from 2007 to 2016, NIH ICs used dozens of different funding strategies to support data resources, most of them linked to research-grant mechanisms that prioritized innovation and hypothesis testing over user service, utility, access, or efficiency.”

To address these primary challenges, the new strategy consists of five core goals:

  • Support a highly efficient and effective biomedical research data infrastructure
  • Promote modernisation of the data-resources ecosystem
  • Support the development and dissemination of advanced data management, analytics, and visualisation tools
  • Enhance workforce development for biomedical data science
  • Enact appropriate policies to promote stewardship and sustainability

Through these aims, the NIH hopes to be able to resolve many of the issues described above. To ensure that the goals can be achieved, the organisation will be appointing a Chief Data Strategist for the first time; at the present time, there is no indication of who may fill this role.

“The NIH must weave its existing data science efforts into the larger data ecosystem and fully intends to take advantage of current and emerging data management and technological expertise, computational platforms, and tools available from the commercial sector through a variety of innovative public-private partnerships,”

Preliminary work for this strategy is already underway, and the NIH hopes to begin implementation over the course of the next year.

“Our nation and the world stand at a unique moment of opportunity in biomedical research, and data science is an integral contributor,” the plan reads. “Understanding basic biological mechanisms through NIH-funded research depends upon vast amounts of data and has propelled biomedicine into the sphere of “Big Data” along with other sectors of the national and global economies.”