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FIGURE HRR-1 Funding for innovation, by funder and investment stage.

SOURCE: Council on Competitiveness. Innovate America. Washington, DC: Council on Competitiveness, 2004. P. 36. Figure 6.

To revitalize frontier research capable of providing breakthroughs, the federal government could

  • Within NIH, continue to explore programs, such as the Pioneer Awards, to increase funding for high-risk, high-benefit biomedical research.

The National Science Board, at the National Science Foundation (NSF), is also discussing this issue. In 2004, an ad hoc Task Group on High-Risk Research was formed, which recommended that a formal Task Force on Transformative Research be established under the Committee on Programs and Plans. Additionally, the ad hoc Task Group noted that there is no formal definition of “high-risk” or “transformative” research, so there is no way to adequately determine how much support NSF is providing to such projects, but there are several reasons to begin doing so. The formal committee is researching these and other questions, and a report is expected within 2 years.4

The European Commission (EC), meanwhile, has focused part of its R&D funding on seeding high-risk research. Under its Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), the EC has established a New and Emerging Science and Technology (NEST) program at €215 million to “support unconventional and visionary research with the potential to open new fields for European science and technology, as well as research on potential problems uncovered by science.”5


National Science Board. “Committee on Programs and Plans, Charge to the Task Force on Transformative Research.” Available at:


European Commission, Enterprise and Industry Directorate-General. “New and Emerging Science and Technology (NEST) Programme.” 2005. Available at:

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