CHANGE IN NIH POLICY OF SUPPORTING NEW INVESTIGATORS

NIH Guide, Volume 26, Number 38, November 21, 1997

P.T.

National Institutes of Health

New Policy

Beginning with the June 1, 1998 receipt date and thereafter, the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) will no longer accept applications for the First
Independent Research Support and Transition awards (R29).  These awards, also
known as FIRST awards, were designed for new investigators.

This change in policy will allow investigators maximum freedom in identifying the
level and period of support needed for the work they are planning.  In making
this change, NIH has committed to supporting at least the same number of new
investigators and, as necessary, directing more resources to their support.

New investigators are encouraged to consider submitting R01 applications even
before the June 1 effective date of this policy.

Definition

Applicants are considered new investigators if they have not previously served
as the principal investigators (PI) on any Public Health Service-supported
research project other than a small grant (R03), an Academic Research Enhancement
Award (R15), an exploratory/developmental grant (R21), or certain research career
awards directed principally to physicians, dentists, or veterinarians at the
beginning of their research career (K01, K08, and K12).  Current or past
recipients of Independent Scientist and other nonmentored career awards (K02,
K04) are not considered new investigators.

Background

New investigators are critical to medical research as they replenish the
researcher pool and seed it with new ideas and approaches.  NIH originally
established the FIRST award for newly independent investigators with the intent
of assisting them to initiate their own research and demonstrate its merit.  It
provided a five-year period of research support , during or after which
investigators could apply for traditional types of NIH research project grants,
particularly R01s.

Since 1986, a significant number of investigators have applied for R29 support,
although most new investigators applied for R01 funding.  R29 applicants have had
a better success rate than new applicants for R01s.  However, when subsequently
applying for renewal of  R01 funding, applicants who received R29 funding as
their initial method of support are less successful than new applicants who
received an R01.

Discussion

NIH's new policy was adopted after an analysis by the Working Group on New
Investigators.  The Working Group, co-chaired by Drs.  Ellie Ehrenfeld and Marvin
Cassman, concluded that while new investigators applying for either R01 or R29
funding are similar, they are subject to an artificial division of applicants
which leads them to grant support mechanismsþeither the R01 or R29þ with several
differences.  These differences include review criteria, requirement for letters
of support, dollar and time limitations, and percentage of time required of the
new investigators.  Some of these differences can penalize the R29 applicant; the
most significant is the dollar limitation of the R29þ$350,000 over a five year
period, with no single year exceeding $100,000.  The NIH will eliminate these
differences by requiring all new investigators to meet the same R01 requirements. 
There is no set time limit, proportion of salary, or dollar cap attached to R01
grants.  Letters of support are not needed.

In FY 1997, NIH supported 1, 466 new investigators with R01 or R29 awards.  To
stabilize the number of new investigators entering the research system, NIH will
commit to supporting at least the same number of new investigators in FY 1998,
and will meet an increased funding level as necessary.  This will help NIH meet
the goal of ensuring that new investigators receive sufficient resources to
sustain their research programs while maintaining the same influx of
investigators in order to promote a healthy medical research system in the
future.

Implementation

The scientific peer review process is important to all applicants, but especially
so to new investigators who are typically less experienced in the preparation of
applications and expression of their research plans.  To ensure a fair review for
new investigators, NIH staff will make use of the winter 1997-1998 round of study
section and Advisory Council meetings to fully explain the change in policy. 
Reviewers will be informed and reminded of the definition of new investigators,
and the Office of Extramural Research, NIH, will provide reviewers with a list
of new investigators who have submitted applications for review in that meeting. 
The NIH is revising application forms to allow new investigators to indicate this
status and thus ensure that reviewers can clearly identify those applications
that are submitted by new investigators.


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