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The NIA funding line: A story with a multilayered plot

Robin BARR [Former NIA Staff],
Division of Extramural Activities (DEA).

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!


Submitted by JoAnne Goodnight on August 02, 2017

As always, your blog is very useful. Does NIH plan to issue a Guide Notice explaining the NGI policy or will each Institute publicize the information/plans via their own websites/blogs?

You can find a link to the NIH site explaining the Next Generation policy in my post. There is also a link to Mike Lauer’s own post on the topic. I don’t think NIH will issue a separate Guide notice as individual Institute policies will differ.

Submitted by Arlan Ricahrdson on August 02, 2017

I think it is very important to give new investigators this help in getting funded. Will this have a negative effect on the funding level of other investigators who are mid career (or like myself, late career).

We are giving advantage in our funding line to first-time renewing investigators. If that is mid-career then that is some protection. And any advantage provided to one group necessarily reduces the funds available to everyone else. So it will have some effect on senior investigators. It may be in the order of a one or two point tightening in the funding line.

Submitted by George M. Martin on August 02, 2017

I congratulate NIA on having taken constructive actions to help the further development of early stage investigators, as they are our future. If and when our budgets begin to grow substantially, I would love to see a subset of very promising ESI get career development awards (e.g., 7 year Merit Awards), as that will provide a degree of security that has been lacking, given the paucity of tenured positions at our academic institutions. Another dream would be a revival of AFAR's Mid-Career Award - grants to those few who DO achieve tenure as Associate Professors, opportunities to pursue new and novel high-risk but potentially high-yield research projects.

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