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  • Washington Highlights

    NIH Council of Councils Members Discuss Proposed Change to Grants Policies

    Stephen Heinig, Director, Science Policy

    During the May 26 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Council of Councils meeting, members raised pressing questions about the new NIH Grant Support Index (GSI), a policy to award no more than three R01 research project grants per project.

    NIH Deputy Directory for Extramural Research Michael Lauer, MD, briefed the council on the current status of the policy, explaining that NIH has significantly revised it based on feedback since the policy’s rollout earlier in May [see Washington Highlights, May 5]. The revised policy focuses on research project grants, excluding center and training grants, and applies only to competing projects at the time of application.

    However, the motivation for the policy is unchanged – NIH indicated the policy seeks to maximize use of limited available resources. Dr. Lauer said NIH analysis indicates that research grant productivity tends to decline after a single principal investigator receives and works on multiple grants; increasing the number of funded principal investigators would improve overall productivity. NIH also would use the policy to increase support for early and mid-career investigators, which Dr. Lauer noted Congress has directed NIH to do.

    University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine Executive Vice Dean and Chief Scientific Officer Jonathan A. Epstein, MD, opposed the measure because of its impact on large labs and prominently accomplished investigators, who may respond to the policy by leaving academic institutions for industry or other organizations. Dr. Epstein and other council members also questioned the analysis and NIH’s quick release of the policy.

    Dr. Lauer said the NIH analysis had replicated earlier findings that also called for distributing research grants more widely and that discussions about grant distribution have been going on at NIH for several years. Thomas Jefferson University Professor of Medical Oncology Edith P. Mitchell, MD, also asked NIH to consider the policy’s potential impact on the diversity of the NIH investigator pool.

    The Council of Councils advises the Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives in the Office of the NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. It draws members from other councils to NIH institutes and centers across the NIH. Its next meeting is Sept. 1.