The NIA funding line: A story with a multilayered plot
We published an updated funding line table a couple of weeks ago. As I thought about describing the changes in this post, what came to mind was something like the complicated plot structure of one of those Sunday-night PBS dramas. We have several themes percolating through that table. I’ll do my best to straighten them out for you.
First theme: Our general appropriation increased this year.
Yes. We received $400 million in additional funding for Alzheimer’s research. That was the big news and I have posted previously about that, and the funding lines for Alzheimer’s (not associated with a PAR) also show this increase in the new table. But, we also received an increase in our general appropriation. We are now translating that increase into an improved general funding line. We have reached the long-forgotten heights of funding to the 15th percentile for most research grants. After years of struggling to reach the 11th percentile, it really is a breath of fresh air.
Second theme, Part A (I warned you that it is a complicated plot line!)
Many of you followed the saga of the Grant Support Index. As you know, NIH senior leadership withdrew that concept following substantial external comment and criticism. Leadership has now replaced it with the Next Generation initiative. Both the retired GSI concept and the new Next Generation initiative are a response to language in the Cures Act, passed late in 2016, calling on NIH to substantially reshape the research workforce to bring in a larger, younger generation of grantees.
As you can read from the new website, and if you have been following the Open Mike blog, NIH is putting a particular focus on early-stage investigators (ESI) and working with its Institutes and Centers to ensure that most ESI applications scoring to the 25th percentile receive funding. That explains another part of our new funding table. We are paying most ESI R01 applications to the 25th percentile. ($500k and over ESI applications are paid only to the 22nd percentile). That was not a tough call for us.
Second theme, Part B
The Next Generation policy from NIH is also emphasizing (usually) first-renewal R01 applications from former ESIs. Reflecting that change, we are paying former ESI first-renewal applications to the 25th percentile, too.
Third theme: How is NIA adding to NIH’s Next Generation policies?
We are continuing some emphasis on new investigators who are not ESIs (No R01s yet, but more than 10 years beyond research training) and adding an emphasis for first-renewal applications from formerly new investigators. That translates to an 18th percentile pay line for both new investigator and first-renewal applications from former new investigators.
The bigger news is NIA’s career award line. As we see the need to seed the next crop of early-stage and new investigators, we’re expanding our career award portfolio. Our general pay line of 22 is beyond any career award pay line in recent years. That small change in the score reached hides the fact that substantial numbers of applications are now being paid that would not have been paid previously. (Many applications achieve scores around 20).
A cliff-hanger conclusion
The final question is whether this July pay line table is the final episode of the complex drama of our funding line. Stay tuned, we’ll have another post. Most likely it will be an exciting tale of R56 (short-term, high-priority) awards and will carry news of the famous AD PARs. It may have one or two other plot twists. As all good dramas should!