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The art of reading tea leaves

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

As mentioned in last week’s blog, our current appropriations situation presents us with a conundrum. It is possible that we will see an increase in support for Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease-related dementias (AD/ADRD) research and perhaps some additional funds for our general allocation. Yet, for now, we are working with a continuing resolution (CR) that—if projected over the full year—reduces our budget by a small amount relative to last year. Of course, we want to make as many awards as early as possible. Yet we certainly do not want to create an unbalanced funding line if an increase does not materialize. (“Yes, I know we can’t pay your wonderful 10th percentile application and I know we paid that other 20th percentile application last month… No. we have nothing against you. What makes you think that?”)

To the tea leaves

What can we do? We engage in the fine art of reading tea leaves. Earlier in the year we paid our general allocation applications to the 7th percentile and AD/ADRD applications to the 10th percentile (with adjustments for large applications, early-stage investigators, and new investigators). These numbers were based on projecting future application numbers and future application scores in review. Now, many more of the applications received for fiscal year 2018 have been scored. All of the “regular” (research grant, CSR-reviewed, investigator-initiated, percentiled) applications have been received. That means our models are more informed. We still do not have complete information. The final round of applications (May Council) have yet to be reviewed.

With that additional information, we are now paying AD/ADRD percentiled research grant applications to the 18th percentile (large applications: 15th percentile; early-stage investigators: 23rd percentile; other new investigators: 21st percentile). You may expect an award if your application scored within these percentiles. Please do check with program staff though. We do look closely at the review and if there is a strong indication that the science can be improved, then we will not necessarily pay an application even if it falls within that percentile range.

The same models tell us that we can now pay applications in the general allocation to the 9th percentile (large applications: 6th percentile; early-stage investigators: 14th percentile; new investigators, 12th percentile).

We are paying AD/ADRD career award applications to a score of 25 and general allocation career award applications to a score of 17. Again, check with your program officer. You may expect an award but sometimes we decide that another submission is necessary even for an application within that score range.

Continuing to play a waiting game

Between the gray skies of CRs to the potential blue skies of a substantially increased appropriation, we are making a funding forecast. We know that these numbers will leave too many wondering about the fate of applications now submitted. Again, the message is: Contact your program officer. You can gain the most information about the chances for your own individual application from that source. Please remember that these are not funding lines. They are our best estimates of how far we can pay given present, incomplete information and the current short-term continuing resolution.

Thank you for your continued patience as we do our best to read the tea leaves.


Submitted by Crossed fingers on February 14, 2018

Thank you for the update! Any information available regarding the SBIR pay line?

Submitted by Robin Barr on February 14, 2018

In reply to by Crossed fingers

The advice to contact your program officer is still true for small business applications. We are not publishing preliminary information on these lines because the lines remain too small to estimate; we want to publish a number that we may be confident we can reach throughout the year.

Submitted by Jeffrey Iliff on March 12, 2018

Thanks for these updates! Will fellowships be subject to the same lines being used for career awards that you noted above, or a different level?

We set the fellowship lines differently. I hope to have news on that once we have our full year budget.

Same question for the newly-defined early estabilished investigator (EEI) category. What if anything can you say about NIA's funding strategy for these investigators?

We have nothing definite yet. We are still busy digesting the language of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 that is now a week old.

Submitted by Jeffrey H. Kordower on April 10, 2018

What about other non-AD dementias like DLB?

Submitted by Robin Barr on April 11, 2018

In reply to by Jeffrey H. Kordower

Alzheimer’s-related dementias are included within the scope of the additional funding we have received. And Dementia with Lewy Bodies is one of these.

Submitted by Anonymous on April 11, 2018

Dear Dr. Barr,
Thanks for the update. Just wondering when NIA will announce the updated paylines for career and other grants ?


Submitted by Robin Barr on April 11, 2018

In reply to by Anonymous

We have to wait for something of a bureaucratic dance to be completed. But I hope we will know by the end of this month.

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