Multiple Reflections: looking forward, looking back

2021 is finally here and most of us are thrilled to put last year  in the rear-view mirror. Although the rollercoaster month of January hasn’t been the smoothest of starts, there are many positive signs that a brighter future is just around the corner.  

Looking back on 2020, we’ve seen NIH lead spectacular scientific breakthroughs in just a few short months. As we enter February, technological achievements that normally require years of effort will be deployed at unprecedented speed and scale. Thanks, in part, to NIBIB, we can look forward to a new year with hundreds of millions of new, accessible over-the-counter COVID-19 tests. And our record-setting investment in diagnostic technologies will protect us from future pathogens and other diseases.  

The U.S. is on track for administering more than100 million vaccine doses by April, and the NIH Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities (CEAL) combined with the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics for Underserved Populations (RADx℠ UP) program gives us confidence we can make these remarkable achievements available for all Americans.   

2020 has been an enormous challenge, but to echo President Biden’s brilliant inauguration speech, “With unity, we can do great things, important things.” Over the past year I’ve been inspired by the extraordinary unity and focus from everyone in NIBIB, across the NIH, and between NIH and other Federal agencies. This unified spirit extended to the countless collaborations we entered with academia, industry, and the nonprofit sector in our common urgency to stop the pandemic. As members of science-based organizations, we can take pride in coming together, under pressure, to help drive the development and delivery of lifesaving technologies to “get back to normal life.” 

We often state our goal is to get back to normal life, but will normal life ever be the same? The physics of time may be reversible, but time in a biological sense moves forward and doesn’t go back. Our world will certainly be different once we emerge from the pandemic, but how will the changes impact us?   

For clues on what the future might hold we can reflect on the success of programs like the former Operation Warp Speed, RADx Initiative, and Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutics Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV). Their transformational impact tells us that traditional approaches for solving hard problemsfrom creating enabling technologies to building a better societywill also change. In the spirit of our mission to “Engineer the Future of Health,” NIBIB will continue to play a leading role in the pursuit of unity and the power to change. 

Stay tuned for rapidly moving developments and best wishes for a healthy and dynamic year ahead!

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