Common Fund Program Lifecycle


Strategic Planning: Phases 1 and 2


The Common Fund is intended to be a flexible resource for NIH to make strategic investments in programs that will have high impact NIH-wide. Strategic planning is undertaken regularly to identify research areas that address key roadblocks in biomedical research or that represent emerging scientific opportunities ripe for Common Fund investment.


Strategic planning involves the identification of trans-NIH challenges and opportunities that address the Common Fund criteria. Broad topics identified in Phase 1 are refined into a series of well-defined programs and initiatives in Phase 2. In Phase 1, ideas for potential new Common Fund programs may be solicited from NIH Leadership, NIH Institute and Center Directors, and members of the broad scientific community. In Phase 2, refinement of ideas may include analyses of the NIH, national, and international research portfolios; workshops and meetings with scientific experts in the field; and input from scientific leaders across the NIH. The Council of Councils for the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI) acts as an external advisory panel to the DPCPSI and NIH Directors for consideration of potential new Common Fund programs. Final decisions on new Common Fund programs are made by NIH Leadership, with input from DPCPSI and NIH Institute and Center Directors. 

Strategic Planning Updates

Fiscal Year 2021 Programs

To plan for new Common Fund programs in fiscal year 2021, OSC solicited ideas from NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs), which were submitted in early November 2018. Additionally, in October 2018, the Common Fund hosted a series of web-based workshops with editors from a diverse array of biomedical and behavioral research journals. The objective of these workshops was to learn about new scientific trends, emerging areas of research, and cross-cutting challenges that may contribute to planning for new Common Fund programs. An executive summary of the three journal editor workshops is now available.  

NIH Leadership considered the ideas put forth and selected several topics for further development:

  • Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa – This program will explore whether advances in data science applied in the African context can spur new health discoveries and catalyze innovation in healthcare and health research on the continent. This concept was cleared by the Council of Councils on September 6, 2019 (view the presentation).  
  • Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustained Transformation (FIRST) - This program aims to create cultures of inclusive excellence at NIH-funded institutions, establishing and maintaining scientific environments that can cultivate and benefit from a full range of talent.  FIRST will establish a faculty cohort model for hiring, mentoring, and professional development; integrated, institution-wide approaches to address bias, faculty equity, mentoring, and work/life issues; and a coordination and evaluation center to conduct independent evaluations of program impacts. This concept was cleared by the Council of Councils on January 24, 2020 (view the presentation). 
  • Precision Nutrition – A potential program in Precision Nutrition would aim to understand individual responses to diet, enabling tailored dietary recommendations to be provided by physicians as well as development of tools to allow individuals to make more informed decisions about healthy food choices. Planning for this program is ongoing; pending approval, this program may launch in fiscal year 2022.

An additional Common Fund program idea emerged from the recommendations of the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) Working Group on Artificial Intelligence. Based on some of these recommendations, a trans-NIH Working Group developed proposed activities for the Artificial Intelligence for BiomedicaL Excellence (AIBLE) program. The overall goal of this potential program is to generate new biomedically-relevant data sets amenable to machine learning analysis at scale. This program concept was cleared by the Council of Councils on May 15, 2020 (view the presentation). 


Fiscal Year 2022 Programs

To plan for new Common Fund programs to begin in fiscal year 2022 or beyond, OSC invited the NIH community to submit their ideas for bold investments that could become future Common Fund programs. Ideas were submitted via a crowdsourcing online platform so that the entire community could constructively comment on submitted ideas, thereby leveraging the collective expertise across NIH.In addition to gathering ideas through the crowdsourcing site, IC Directors were also invited to submit ideas. All ideas were provided to a small group of IC Directors for recommended prioritization, and these recommendations and the complete list of idea was considered by the NIH Director.

From this process, a potential idea focused on exploring transposable elements and somatic mosaicism was selected for further development. This potential program may explore how mobile genetic elements (transposable elements) result in genomic plasticity and/or degeneration of the genome, and how these processes affect health and disease. It may also consider the health effects of having multiple genetically distinct populations of cells within an individual (somatic mosaicism), resulting from transposable elements or other processes. Pending approval, this program may launch in fiscal year 2022.

Additionally, several ideas were identified that may be relevant focus areas within the potential new AIBLE program (see above). These potential focus areas are 1) developing systems-level signatures of human health and resilience to disease and 2) defining signatures of health and disease through analysis of human movement and behavior.

In addition to the strategic planning process above, several other NIH-wide efforts contributed to development of new Common Fund programs. At the NIH Leadership Forum, NIH leadership and IC Directors identified cellular senescence as a high priority research area. Cellular senescence refers to a highly stable state of cell cycle arrest in which cells stop dividing, often in response to various stressors, such as aging and inflammation. A better understanding of the mechanisms of cellular senescence and how this process affects tissue and organ function may lead to new approaches for addressing the deleterious effects of aging as well as numerous diseases and conditions. If approved, this program may launch in fiscal year 2022.

All planning effort for fiscal year 2022 programs are ongoing. The scope and focus of potential programs is subject to change, and all potential programs are subject to approval. 



As each Common Fund program is unique, the implementation of each program varies. To read more about the currently supported Common Fund programs, see Common Fund Programs.



Common Fund programs are designed to achieve a set of high-impact goals within a 5-10 year time frame. At the conclusion of each program, deliverables will either stimulate IC-funded research or will transition to support by ICs or other entities that find these resources useful. Programs that have transitioned from Common Fund support can be found on the Former Programs page.

Common Fund programs are evaluated throughout the lifecycle as the need arises.

This page last reviewed on June 24, 2020