NIH Announces New Plans to Optimize Distribution of Grant Funding

By | May 11, 2017

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) unveiled on May 2 plans for a new policy designed to optimize distribution of grant funds across the research community. It will be implemented later this year.

In a teleconference, Dr. Larry Tabak, DDS, PhD, the agency’s Principal Deputy Director,  noted that several key grants policy changes were put in place following the 2012 report of the Biomedical Workforce Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director. However, these changes have had only moderate success in addressing the balance of funding across career stages.

The new initiative, called the Grant Support Index (GSI), Dr. Tabak said, will allow NIH to address concerns for the long-term stability of the biomedical research enterprise. He cited analyses showing that 10 percent of investigators receive 40 percent of NIH funds, as well as the diminishing returns on productivity from investigators with three or more R01 grants.

The need for a new approach has been highlighted in several publications, including a 1985 paper by Bruce Alberts, PhD; and more recently, FASEB’s 2015 report, Sustaining Discovery in the Biological and Medical Sciences. The GSI policy would assign points to an investigator’s NIH-funded activities (e.g., serving as a principal investigator on an R01 grant) and apply a point threshold at which an investigator would be asked to balance his or her NIH-funded workload.

The specific parameters of the GSI are still under development.  NIH plans to actively engage the stakeholder community for comment. Dr. Tabak highlighted the following considerations:

  • The point threshold is anticipated to affect only six percent of NIH-funded investigators, but will free up approximately $500 million to $650 million (approximately 1,500 to 1,600 new awards)
  • Point values will be determined based on grant complexity or size
  • An investigator’s GSI will be calculated automatically by the NIH’s electronic research administration (eRA) system, which is designed to minimize additional burdens for the researcher
  • Investigators will not be de-funded if they meet or exceed the GSI threshold; and when a new grant application is submitted, the eRA system may trigger an alert indicating the need to develop a plan for re-evaluating NIH-supported efforts
  • NIH is still working on the point values for different activities and the GSI threshold NIH plans to actively engage the research community in the development of the implementation plan

Additional information about the policy can be found in a recent statement issued by Francis Collins, MD, PhD, NIH Director, and a blog post by Michael Lauer, MD, Deputy Director for Extramural Research.

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