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A Pilot Partnership to Find Private Support for Unfunded Applications

When I was an editor at JAMA, we often considered papers that were strong, received favorable reviews, and yet could not be published for lack of space. As it turned out, we had an option other than outright rejection: we could offer authors a user-friendly pathway by which their papers, and the reviews that went with them, could be forwarded for consideration at another journal (e.g. JAMA Internal Medicine). Later, when I came to NIH I wondered whether it was even theoretically possible for a funding agency to do something similar: arrange a way for highly meritorious but unfunded projects to find their way to willing, even eager, alternate private-sector sponsors.  Effectively, we could develop public-private partnerships to extend the system’s ability to fund high-quality science and scientists.

Public-private partnerships are an important way in which we aim to extend NIH’s reach. Such partnerships take a variety of forms, such as the Accelerating Medicines Partnership which aims to transform how we identify, validate, and develop new diagnostics and treatments. Now, NIH is venturing into another kind of public-private partnership that we hope will result in the funding of additional NIH grant applications.

We frequently discuss on this blog the challenges associated with receiving many more high quality research proposals than NIH can possibly fund, which is why we are interested in exploring creative ways to help fund these applications. This is why we’re supporting a pilot program to help meritorious unfunded NIH applications find a match with private funders.

The Online Partnership to Accelerate Research (OnPAR) program, operated by Leidos Life Sciences, will act as a matchmaker between unfunded NIH applicants and private research funders. OnPAR’s growing list of private funders currently includes the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, National Alopecia Areata Foundation, Children’s Tumor Foundation, Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Research Foundation, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Melanoma Research Alliance, and Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy. We anticipate that more private funders and federal research agencies will be added to this program in the future.

To begin the process, NIH program officers will inform select applicants about potential funding opportunities via the OnPAR pilot. Select applicants include those who have a) have undergone Council review within the past year, b) have scored well (i.e., within the 30th percentile or promising non-percentiled applications), c) were unfunded and d) have research proposals that fall under the missions of the participating private funders. Applicants, at their discretion, can decide whether to submit materials to OnPAR for consideration of private funding. NIH will not provide any application or review materials to OnPAR or any of its member organizations; rather, the unfunded applicant would upload their NIH-submitted abstract to the OnPAR website.  Leidos Health Sciences will then identify potential matches with OnPAR’s private funders and extend  invitations to researchers to submit the full NIH application, scores, percentile, and summary statements for consideration by private funders.

Not only will this program benefit our applicants by helping connect them with potential funders, it allows the private funders to take advantage of NIH’s peer review system and keeps applicants from having to develop another application to seek funding elsewhere.

More information about OnPAR can be found in this recent article. Information about participating member organizations and the submission process can be found on the OnPAR website or by emailing OnPAR at OnPAR@leidos.com.

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8 thoughts on “A Pilot Partnership to Find Private Support for Unfunded Applications

  1. Mike, Bravo! Your pilot program has all the hallmarks of an important step forward that will help speed medical progress even as it saves time and resources, and stimulates greater public-private partnership. I have heard people talk about this in general terms for decades, as though it were impossible to organize. You appear to have cracked the code!

    Let me know how we can can help,

    Mary Woolley

  2. Excellent idea!!!! Back in 2011, when I was at NIH, I led a similar pilot in partnership with the National Health Council. The concept stemmed from then ACD member, Wendy Chaite ( Founder, Lymphatic Research Foundation). It is a great way to support meritorious yet unfunded applications. I am glad to see that the effort is being resurrected and kudos to Leidos Life Sciences for facilitating the matchmaking.

    Jo Anne Goodnight

  3. This is a really wonderful and excellent idea. As an applicant I feel that this new approach will significantly reduce the burden of writing multiple grant applications to suit different funding agencies. I personally look forward exploring the new system.

  4. Why not really accelerate it– show the critiques. The due diligence has already been done, paid for etc. allowing a reduction in cost for the private funding groups. They can add to/re-do with a “second-tier” type review, but it would eliminate a lot of already incurred costs.

  5. Wonderful idea, thank you! I hope it will be such a success it will get expanded NIH-wide soon, having access to free, high-quality reviews, make a lot of sense for foundations, too. Keeping my fingers crossed.

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