One of the strengths of the foundation world is its ability to be flexible; to have the ability to take an objective look at its funding capabilities and make a change even when it may not be an easy decision.
The Career Awards at the Biomedical Sciences (CABS) was the Burroughs Wellcome Fund's signature program since BWF became an independent and private foundation in 1994. Until 2006, 241 awards were given to young scientists at the postdoctoral level who were poised to go on to promising academic careers as independent researchers. BWF invested more than $100 million into the award program.
The program was so successful that it caught the attention of Nobel laureate Thomas Cech, who, in a report to the NIH by the National Academies, urged the federal government to model an award mechanism based on CABS. In January 2006, the NIH announced its Pathway to Independence awards (K99/R00), of which they would offer 175-200 a year, roughly five times the amount BWF would be able to make.
BWF prides itself on supporting underfunded areas of science. The shouldering of the career development awards by the government meant that this area had significant support. Despite its tradition of success, it was time to make a shift.
In May 2006, the BWF Board of Directors approved an award program designed to increase the number of physician-scientists into the biomedical research enterprise by providing career development funding. The newly minted Career Awards for Medical Scientists was influenced by several studies on physician-scientists, one of which went so far as to call the researchers "endangered species."
"We had an idea that this was certainly an area where there was a need for funding," said BWF President Dr. Queta Bond. "But the quality and quantity of the applications exceeded our expectations."