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  • Washington Highlights

    NIH Announces Major Change to Grants Policy


    Stephen Heinig, Director, Science Policy

    National Institutes of Health (NIH) Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, DDS, PhD, May 2 announced a forthcoming change in the NIH’s grants policies that is intended to effectively distribute funding across more researchers.

    Specifically, the policy would address the following problematic trends that NIH has identified: 1) increasing funding challenges for junior and mid-career investigators, including a recent marked decline in the share of awards to mid-career scientists; 2) data that suggest faculty with multiple R01 grants are relatively less productive with each new grant beyond the first; and 3) the limited number of investigators who receive a disproportionate amount of the NIH’s funding (i.e. 10 percent of investigators receive 40 percent of the total funding).

    Under the new policy, NIH would implement a funding cap to limit investigators to the equivalent of three R01 awards based on a new indicator referred to as the Grant Support Index (GSI). While the exact methodology is still under development, the GSI would count each R01 as seven points, and other grants would be scored as less or more depending on the amount of perceived investigator bandwidth they would require. According to NIH, the goal of this new approach is to increase the support for early and mid-career investigators by redistributing funds, but the pathway for improving their funding success is also a work in progress, and is likely to result in pilot programs in multiple institutes and centers to see which strategies are most effective.

    In a May 2 statement, NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, noted, “While implementation of a GSI limit is estimated to affect only about 6 percent of NIH-funded investigators, we expect that, depending on the details of the implementation, it would free up about 1,600 new awards to broaden the pool of investigators conducting NIH research and improve the stability of the enterprise.”

    More information about the policy, as well as an opportunity to provide feedback, is available on Open Mike, the blog of NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Michael Lauer.