Council considers strategies to strengthen NIH peer review

By | October 6, 2016

On September 26, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center for Scientific Review (CSR) Advisory Council met to discuss key issues for peer review—and the NIH grant application and award process more broadly—as the agency plans for FY 2017 and beyond.

Lawrence Tabak, DDS, PhD, NIH Principal Deputy Director, reviewed the current status of the FY 2017 federal budget and the challenges for NIH should a long-term continuing resolution be enacted. Noting that the 2016 elections will result in a new administration, Dr. Tabak outlined the steps already taken by NIH to ensure a smooth transition with minimal effects on NIH grant recipients.

NIH Deputy Director for Science, Outreach, and Policy, Kathy Hudson, PhD, followed Dr. Tabak’s comments by reviewing new federal regulations regarding the oversight of clinical trials, specifically the sharing of trial data and summary outcomes. Dr. Hudson also articulated plans for NIH to fund clinical trials through specific funding opportunity announcements rather than as components of research project grants beginning in September 2017. Additional details about these changes can be found in the NIH Director’s blog.

The meeting also included presentations from CSR staff members regarding the outcomes of pilot programs and meeting formats intended to enhance the peer review process and contain program costs. Amy Rubenstein, PhD, a Scientific Review Officer at CSR, presented the results of a pilot in which reviewers could use half-points when scoring grants. Currently, reviewers utilize a nine-point rating scale to assess all applications; however, like the previous five-point scale, there is still a trend for the majority of scores to fall within the 2– 4 range (outstanding to very good). In an attempt to alleviate this compression of scores, reviewers in the pilot study were given the option to provide a second score using half points. Interestingly, reviewers opting to use half point scores tended to give grants higher (worse) scores. Additional information about this pilot is summarized in the September edition of CSR’s Peer Review Notes blog.