With apologies to Dickens and to Chaplin…
It is the best of times.
When the dust cleared on our budget this year, the NIA was blessed with a 12.5%, $130 million increase over fiscal year 2013’s sequester-dictated funding. As the NIH as a whole received a 3.4% increase, NIA’s 2014 funding reflects extraordinary recognition from Congress.
And this year the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is supporting an initiative with NIA to reduce injurious falls among the elderly. This valuable partnership enables us to support a clinical trial that would not otherwise have happened.
Within NIH, Felipe Sierra and Ron Kohanski’s (both of our Division of Aging Biology) championing of the Geroscience Interest Group across NIH has led to substantial interest across many Institutes and in the private sector in exploring the aging roots of their particular diseases, syndromes, and conditions, so many of which emerge or grow common in later life.
Aging is “in”. Public recognition of the needs of an aging society has never been higher. Scientific interest in aging has continued to grow. And the increased support provided to us is evidence of that public and scientific attention.
It is the worst of times.
In fiscal year 2013 (October 2012 to September 2013), we saw our worst success rate ever for research project grant applications—R01s, R21s, R03s, etc. NIA’s success rate was noticeably below the NIH average success rate, which was also among the lowest ever for NIH as a whole.
NIA saw a low success rate despite cutting already severely reduced noncompeting awards by a further 5.5% to adjust for the effects of the sequester. We saw it despite averaging 18% cuts on most competing research grant awards. We saw it despite the controls we have placed on large awards.
Why did we see it? Because applications to NIA hit a record high in 2013. As success rate is a mildly altered derivative of awards divided by applications, more applications with no more money means a lower success rate.
It is modern times.
Current state: Recovered in parts.
Through a fog of words called “conference report language,” the message from Congress was to direct much of NIA’s recent bounty towards research on Alzheimer’s disease. With so much scientific opportunity in these times, that is easy to do. Beginning with the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (2012) and the 2012 Alzheimer’s summit and recommendations, and through the President’s Initiative on Alzheimer’s in 2013, public and scientific interest in the field have converged at an opportune time for progress. New genetic discoveries and the arrival of tau imaging, for example, make this modern time exciting.
Alzheimer’s is an important and unsolved problem in aging. But it is one of many important and unsolved problems that confront us as we grow older and as our society experiences this major demographic shift.
Our updated (March 20) funding policy continues to offer an 11th percentile funding line for most applications (for the fourth year in a row). We are no longer cutting Type 5 awards beyond the slices made in earlier years. We still offer a five point advantage for early-stage investigator R01 applications (and three points for other new investigators). Though much of the additional funds for Alzheimer’s research will support previously developed and new initiatives, some funds will also support applications in areas of strategic priority that are beyond this payline.
It is still a high bar. We are working hard to make it a consistent bar (and maybe improve it a little). We hope that a consistent signal can at least tell you what you need to succeed and in that way help you realize your plans. Most of all, we still encourage you to apply for NIA funding.