NIGMS council considers old and new funding strategies

By | September 22, 2016

At its September 16 meeting, the Advisory Council of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) discussed the implementation of the Institute’s Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA), strategies to facilitate evidence-based funding decisions, and critical changes to a funding mechanism to support biomedical technology research resources.

In his opening remarks, Jon Lorsch, PhD, Director of NIGMS, presented an overview of the MIRA pilot program targeted to early-stage and new investigators and discussed adjustments that would be made in future funding opportunity announcements for this population. In total, 320 investigators applied for the first MIRA pilot, approximately half of the eligible pool, and 94 were awarded. This 29.4 percent success rate is comparable to that for early-stage and new investigators in the R01 and DP2 application pools at NIGMS. The median value of the awards was $250,000 (mean of $239,000), and there was no significant difference in gender, race, or ethnicity between the applicants and awardees.

One interesting observation was that awardees were 1.5 years younger than unsuccessful applicants (37.2 years to 38.7 years) and two years younger than the FY 2015 early-stage investigator pool for R01 grants at NIGMS. Dr. Lorsch was quick to note, however, that age 37 is still “too old for investigators to be receiving their first major award.” NIGMS recently reissued this funding opportunity, but limited it to early-stage investigators. The Institute will host an informational webinar for potential applicants on September 27, and applications are due on November 4.

Michael Lauer, MD, Deputy Director for Extramural Research for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) presented perspectives on evidence-based funding and the array of metrics available to assess the outcomes of federally funded research activities. He noted the challenges associated with using publications-based metrics to assess research activities and described the recent work from NIH’s Office of Portfolio Analysis that led to the development of the Relative Citation Ratio, a metric that assesses the influence of an individual study rather than the journal within which it is published. Dr. Lauer also discussed the need for funding agencies such as NIH to balance support for research activities that are deemed truly transformative with those that continue to move the field forward and lead to incremental discoveries.

Acknowledging the importance of cutting edge tools and environments in advancing research activities and discoveries, the Council approved changes to the Biomedical Technology Research Resources (BTRR) funding opportunity. Although BTRR has existed for over 50 years, a recent review of this program led to several key revisions intended to keep it nimble and responsive to community needs. Changes include limiting funding for BTRR centers to a maximum of 15 years and requiring applicants to submit a long-term sustainability plan for proposed technologies and resources.