Pilot NIH grant pre-application could lead to lengthier approval process, warns FASEB

By | August 13, 2015

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) raised concerns this week about a proposed pilot program that would tack on additional steps to the grant process for some applicants at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The recommendation, which appeared in a draft report by the Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) grant review, award, and management process (GRAMP) Working Group, proposes that some researchers submit a pre-application project summary before applying for a grant.

In a letter to the NIH Office of Science Policy on August 4, FASEB’s president, Parker B. Antin, PhD, noted that adoption of additional paperwork could increase the amount of time from application to award rather than streamline the process.  FASEB also disagreed with the Working Group’s assertion that the added step would enhance grant success rates. Because only those applicants with approved pre-proposals would be invited to submit full proposals, those with poor reviews might be discouraged from submitting grants.

Antin urged the board to await the findings of a similar pilot program at the National Science Foundation. He also encouraged the agency to solicit feedback from federal, state, and university researchers before adopting the strategy.

The pilot program and the board’s 10 other recommendations are a result of recent NIH efforts to reduce the time from grant application to allocation of funds.  So far, the agency’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR) Advisory Council has developed plans to expand the peer reviewer pool, test different formats for peer review meetings, and re-evaluate the workloads of reviewers and CSR staff members. In addition, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke are testing funding mechanisms that would support investigators’ entire research programs, rather than individual projects.