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Enhancing social value considerations in prioritising publicly funded biomedical research: the vital role of peer review
  1. Katherine W Saylor,
  2. Steven Joffe
  1. Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Katherine W Saylor, Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA; kwsaylor{at}pennmedicine.upenn.edu

Abstract

The main goal of publicly funded biomedical research is to generate social value through the creation and application of knowledge that can improve the well-being of current and future people. Prioritising research with the greatest potential social value is crucial for good stewardship of limited public resources and ensuring ethical involvement of research participants. At the National Institutes of Health (NIH), peer reviewers hold the expertise and responsibility for social value assessment and resulting prioritisation at the project level. However, previous research has shown that peer reviewers place more emphasis on a study’s methods (‘Approach’) than on its potential social value (best approximated by the criterion of ‘Significance’). Lower weighting of Significance may be due to reviewers’ views on the relative importance of social value, their belief that social value is evaluated at other stages of the research priority-setting process or the lack of guidance on how to approach the challenging task of assessing expected social value. The NIH is currently revising its review criteria and how these criteria contribute to overall scores. To elevate the role of social value in priority setting, the agency should support empirical research on how peer reviewers approach the assessment of social value, provide more specific guidance for reviewing social value and experiment with alternative reviewer assignment strategies. These recommendations would help ensure that funding priorities align with the NIH’s mission and the obligation of taxpayer-funded research to contribute to the public good.

  • Resource Allocation
  • Ethics- Research
  • Decision Making
  • Public Policy

Data availability statement

Data sharing not applicable as no data sets generated and/or analysed for this study.

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Data availability statement

Data sharing not applicable as no data sets generated and/or analysed for this study.

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Footnotes

  • The main goal of publicly funded biomedical research is to generate social value through the creation and application of knowledge that can improve the well-being of current and future people. Prioritizing research with the greatest potential social value is crucial for good stewardship of limited public resources and ensuring ethical involvement of research participants. At the National Institutes of Health (NIH), peer reviewers hold the expertise and responsibility for social value assessment and resulting prioritization at the project level. However, previous research has shown that peer reviewers place more emphasis on a study’s methods (“Approach”) than on its potential social value (best approximated by the criterion of “Significance”). Lower weighting of Significance may be due to reviewers' views on the relative importance of social value, their belief that social value is evaluated at other stages of the research priority-setting process, or the lack of guidance on how to approach the challenging task of assessing expected social value. The NIH is currently revising its review criteria and how these criteria contribute to overall scores. To elevate the role of social value in priority setting, the agency should support empirical research on how peer reviewers approach the assessment of social value, provide more specific guidance for reviewing social value, and experiment with alternative reviewer assignment strategies. These recommendations would help ensure that funding priorities align with the NIH’s mission and the obligation of taxpayer-funded research to contribute to the public good.

  • Twitter @kwsaylor, @SteveJoffe

  • Contributors Conceptualisation and intellectual project development: KWS and SJ. Literature review and analysis: KWS. Writing—original draft and major revisions: KWS. Writing—discussion and critical revisions: SJ. Guarantor: SJ.

  • Funding This study was funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute (T32HG009496).

  • Competing interests SJ is a paid member of the Data and Safety Monitoring Board for CSL Behring.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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