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December 4, 2015
Extramural Deputy Lauer Emphasizes Data-Driven Decisions

As an academic cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic in the 1990s, Dr. Mike Lauer was forced to think of measurable outcomes as part of the DNA of the clinic.

“It wasn’t enough to say ‘I am doing a good job as a doctor.’ There had to be a set of measures to figure out how well I was doing,” said Lauer, an Albany Medical College graduate.

Dr. Mike Lauer
Dr. Mike Lauer

That data-driven approach is what Lauer brings to his new job as NIH deputy director for extramural research and director of the Office of Extramural Research, where he is responsible for providing grant policies and guidance, ensuring research integrity and compliance and managing the electronic processing of grant applications. With more than 80 percent of NIH’s $30.3 billion annual budget funding medical research worldwide through grants, steering NIH’s grant portfolio is a huge responsibility.

“Medicine should be a scientific endeavor. So we should apply the same rigorous, scientific approach to how we fund biomedical research,” Lauer said.

“What excites me about OER is that we sit on a massive amount of data. With analysis, we have a great opportunity to take this thinking to a higher level.”

Lauer distinguished himself at NHLBI where, as director of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, he and colleagues conducted a data analysis showing that the institute had spent more than $2 billion on small clinical trials on heart disease that had a poor record of publishing results.

“It raised the question—should we be selective in what we fund?” said the paper’s lead author Dr. David Gordon, with whom Lauer had conducted the analysis. Indeed, NHLBI plans to fund fewer and more in-depth studies, so that resources can be focused on trials with more meaningful results.

“Although very early in his tenure, Dr. Lauer has already demonstrated great facility with analytics and a strong resolve to using a data-driven approach in all decision-making,” said Dr. Larry Tabak, NIH principal deputy director.

Tabak cited Lauer’s expertise in clinical trials design as another plus.

At NHLBI, Lauer was often tapped for large NIH initiatives—co-chairing a cohort design committee for the Precision Medicine Initiative and helping build PCORnet, a network designed to make clinical research affordable.

Lauer came to NIH in 2007 on the advice of a mentor who told him that NHLBI would be an exciting, vibrant place to work. Lauer, with a busy clinical practice at the Cleveland Clinic and having helped set up a new medical school at Case Western Reserve University, was not so sure.

“NIH was like a black box to me,” he recalled. “I sent in my grant applications, checked off all the boxes and that was it. But when I met with the search committee, I was really taken. I was fascinated by the kind of policy issues [under discussion] and how thoughtful the conversations were.”

Lauer grew up in Philadelphia, the son of a physicist/engineer and a teacher/artist. His father, James Lothar Lauer, had settled there after fleeing Vienna and the Nazis in 1938 and marrying his mother, Stefanie Blank, who had fled Berlin. His younger sister, Ruth Lauer-Manenti, is a well-known yoga teacher and artist known as Lady Ruth. “My credibility at NHLBI shot up after people found out she was my sister,” Lauer said with a chuckle.

As a first grader, Lauer struggled to read. After hearing from a concerned teacher, his parents sat him down and taught him the skill. It was as if a light bulb went on. Given a chapter to read in class, Lauer read the whole book. And when the teacher asked a question, he inadvertently revealed the ending, much to her chagrin and delight.

Today, Lauer is a voracious reader, consuming books on economics, public policy, religion and history. He is also a prolific writer, with over 300 scientific papers. He served for 7 years as a contributing editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association and wrote a ‘Today’s News’ internal blog at NHLBI. At OER, he has begun a blog called Open Mike at NIH.

Colleagues acknowledge his intellectual heft and describe him as a fine scientist, a hard worker, a man of wide-ranging interests, open to new ideas, well-liked and a humane boss.

Lauer is married to Dr. Robin Avery (whom he met during his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital), an infectious diseases physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital and expert in transplant-related infections. They have two sons, Nathan, a licensed pilot pursuing aeronautical engineering and computer science at the University of Maryland, and Danny, a junior at Brandeis University studying biology and environmental sciences.

“We have been blessed,” Lauer said.

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