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Biomedicine international training research programme for excellent clinician-scientists

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BITRECS (Biomedicine international training research programme for excellent clinician-scientists)

Reporting period: 2017-10-01 to 2019-09-30

Clinician-scientists provide an invaluable help in translating research results “from bench to bedside” thanks to their deep understanding of medical problems and their hands-on experience with patients and diseases. Unfortunately, their recruitment and retention has become more and more difficult due to the lack of appropriate funding opportunities, the high clinical workload during the economic crisis and, maybe, because of a change in the culture of the new generations who may not value research.
The “Biomedicine international training research programme for excellent clinician-scientists” (BITRECS) is a 60-months innovative project aimed at recruiting young, international, excellent post-doctoral researchers, provide them with the opportunity to work full-time on the completion of a 36-months research proposal, support their professional growth as clinician-scientists and help them progress along their career path. The BITRECS project is promoted by the Institut d'Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS) in Barcelona (Spain) and receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Slodowska-Curie grant agreement 754550 and “La Caixa” Foundation (ID 100010434), under the agreement LCF / PR / GN18 / 50310006.
At month 24 of the project, 8 excellent and motivated researchers have been selected through an open, transparent and merit-based recruitment (OTM-R) linked to an international and peer-reviewed BITRECS call; they all have a clinician-scientist profile since, during their professional path, they combined both research and clinical activities. These researchers have been appointed at IDIBAPS and are developing their experimental projects within one of IDIBAPS’ research lines, either through an outgoing mobility scheme within the framework of an international collaboration (12-18 months in an outgoing institution and 18-24 months at IDIBAPS) or an incoming scheme (36 months at IDIBAPS). Moreover, the BITRECS programme is providing each fellow with scientific supervision, training opportunities and mentoring to support their personal and professional progression.
During the first period of BITRECS implementation, several actions were undertaken to kick-start the programme in accordance to the planned roadmap. As a first step, a campaign to engage IDIBAPS laboratories and partner organisations open to host potential candidates interested in the BITRECS programme, was developed. Therefore, a website containing a detailed description of the fellowship programme along with a thorough explanation of the eligibility criteria and the application process was created. The opening of the first call for applicants (02/01/2018 – 31/03/2018) was advertised through individual communications to partner organisations, general communication to international societies and associations that could reach clinician scientists and through IDIBAPS social media networks. In addition, adverts were published on the online career portals of internationally renewed scientific journals and in the Euraxess website. This dissemination campaign was partially supported by the SIMPACT project, reference EUC2014-C-51553, from the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness - MINECO to increase its international impact.
Unfortunately, although many potential candidates expressed interest in participating to the first BITRECS open call, an insufficient number of applications were received and, therefore, this call had to be declared void. Once the causes leading to this result were identified, mitigations measures were undertaken and an improved dissemination strategy was designed to increase the impact and success of the recruitment. As a result, the 2nd call for applicants (01/07/2018 – 30/09/2018) received a higher number of applications allowing to run the selection and evaluation process. Accordingly with the EU “Code of conduct for the recruitment of researchers”, selection of candidates was conducted in an open, transparent and merit based manner, taking into consideration any possible conflict of interest or gender bias. Each candidacy went first, through an eligibility checking process and then, through a 2-steps evaluation (remote evaluation conducted by an external evaluation agency to ensure the independence of the process and face-to-face interviews), involving independent international evaluators. Accordingly, each candidate received an Evaluation Summary Report (ESR) detailing their strengths and weaknesses in line with the pre-established evaluation criteria. Moreover, during the remote evaluation, applicants were asked to address any ethical issues that could arise from the implementation of their research proposals; also the evaluators provided their feedback on these issues as well as gave indications on how to monitor them, should the candidate be granted the fellowship. To guarantee the excellence of the programme only 8 of the 10 fellowship available were assigned.
Between month 19 and 24 of the project, 7 of the 8 selected fellows started their contract, 3 of them through the incoming mobility scheme and 4 of them through the outgoing mobility scheme. All of them have been invited to attend the inaugural kick-off meeting of the BITRECS programme foreseen on month 25 (October 1, 2019); this event aims at providing the fellows with key information regarding the BITRECS training and research programme and at giving indications on how to prepare the dissemination and exploitation plan according to their research proposals. Moreover, as part of the meeting, a training activity will be organized to help the fellows reflect on the challenges of their future career stages, identify the skills required to successfully face those challenges and then design a personal career development plan with the support of their supervisors.
In agreement with the aim of the BITRECS programme, the following period of implementation will focus on supporting fellows’ career and research activity.
Throughout the duration of the BITRECS programme, IDIBAPS and also the outgoing hosting institutions will be providing the fellows with lifelong training and career development activities. In addition, each fellow has already started to propose external trainings to cover individual specific educational needs. As they will gain new knowledge and abilities at all levels, yearly assessment meetings will be organized to monitor the scientific and professional progress of the fellows with respect to the project proposal and career development plan.
Overall, the BITRECS project aims to recruit excellent clinician scientists who, by the end of their fellowships, will have contributed to the progression of their research field with scientific results of high translational value and, overall who will contribute at improving people’s health by clinical practice based in scientific evidence.
Therefore, the impacts of the BITRECS programme are expected to increase the value of public investments in translational research by translating research results into clinical practice thanks to professionals very well trained in the clinics and in the labs. The BITRECS programme aims at contributing to IDIBAPS vision which is to develop research of excellence that integrates biomedical basic and clinical science to improve the prevention and treatment of health problems in our environment.