In the twenty years since its creation, the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) has established its unique role as a funding organization at the frontiers of the modern life sciences. In these efforts it has been extremely successful. While considerable efforts are undertaken around the world by organizations employing both public and private funds, often of an order of magnitude greater than that which HFSP will ever be able to offer, it has created for itself a unique niche to address the paradox that science is international while its institutions and funding organizations are mostly nationally or even regionally organized.
Against this background, the strategic aims of HFSP are to:
- Support innovative, cutting edge research at the frontiers of the life sciences;
- Encourage high risk research;
- Promote international collaboration in the spirit of science without borders;
- Enable financial and intellectual independence for early career researchers;
- Raise the profile of HFSP and its work through an intelligent communication strategy;
- Foster inclusiveness by increasing participation by female scientists; and
- Sustain the means of achieving its distinctive mission in the face of the rising cost of research.
In line with these goals, international program grants as well as postdoctoral fellowships are and remain the pillars of its portfolio. The rigorous peer review by international committees will remain its hallmark.
Due to its one-of-a-kind position, HFSP can observe, and stimulate changes in fundamental biological research worldwide. Thus, it provides its member organizations with a window through which they can assess their national programs. It is a forum for discussion about best practices as well as a common test bed for new initiatives, many of which have been adopted by the national agencies. It can highlight communication problems between groups of scientists. Because its awardees are highly mobile, the Human Frontier Science Program is aware of global movements of talent, and through its prestigious awards HFSP will help in the recognition of new centers of excellence as they arise worldwide.
The frontiers of the life sciences are a rapidly moving target and thus resist clear identification. Nevertheless the broader issues can be readily defined. Biology has become quantitative and systemic due to major contributions from mathematics, physics, chemistry, the computer sciences and methodological developments in DNA-sequencing, imaging and light microscopy. These developments now permit meaningful research at higher levels of complexity in bridging the existing gap between molecular biology and ecology or biodiversity. No doubt, others, like the influence of climate change on biological systems, will be added in the future.
In recent years, HFSP has continuously reviewed its instruments and processes in order to measure its impact on grantees and host institutions. The reviews of 1996, 2001, 2007, 2010 and 2018 have invariably and consistently underlined the high quality of the program. Nevertheless, procedures and instruments have to be adapted while the life sciences progress in a process which can only be described as revolutionary. It is the aim of this Strategic Outlook to accommodate these developments and to use them to give future directions for this unique funding organization.