Nexus January 2014
Dr. Sally Rockey

Rock Talk

What’s New with NIH’s Small Business Research Programs?

Since the last time I’ve written about our small business research programs, there have been a lot of important changes as a result of the Congressional reauthorization that mandated Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding requirements through fiscal year 2017. The reauthorization includes changes that are intended to strengthen the SBIR and STTR programs’ outreach strategy, reporting mechanisms and small business eligibility requirements. We have been working diligently alongside the Small Business Administration to put these changes into effect for NIH, as described on the SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011: NIH Implementation of Key Changes website. As the 2014 HHS-wide SBIR and STTR Omnibus solicitations were announced last week, I thought it would be good to highlight some of these important reforms.

  • Venture capital-backed companies: Small business concerns that are majority-owned by multiple venture capital operating companies, hedge funds and/or private equity firms can now apply to the NIH SBIR program.
  •  Switching between SBIR and STTR: Traditionally applicants with a Phase I STTR award or a Phase I SBIR award would only be able to move on to applying for a Phase II STTR or SBIR award respectively.  However, they may now switch between the SBIR and STTR programs between Phases (I to II and II to IIB).
  • Technical assistance programs: NIH has expanded the Niche Assessment Program for active Phase I awardees, and the Commercialization Assistance Program for Phase II awardees, to include both SBIR and STTR awardees.
  • Increased outreach efforts: NIH funds biomedical research funding in all states. As part of the reauthorization requirements, NIH will continue targeting historically underserved geographical areas known as Institutional Development Award (IDeA) states, and populations, including women-owned small businesses (WOSB) and small disadvantaged business (SDB). NIH’s goal is to continue spreading awareness about the SBIR and STTR programs to these groups, and to increase the number and quality of their SBIR and STTR applications.
  • New guidance on application submissions above the statutory hard budget caps: more information in Appendix A of the omnibus solicitation.
  • Coming soon – direct SBIR phase II FOA: A funding announcement that permits direct SBIR Phase II applications will be coming soon – stay tuned to the NIH SBIR homepage and the SBIR/STTR listserv for details.

Small businesses are important for commercializing innovative medical technologies and these programs are one way which NIH supports them. The SBIR/STTR programs are unique in many ways  – for example, the number of SBIR applications received over the past decade are a different picture than the overall rise in research project grant applications. But like all of our programs, the SBIR and STTR program application success rates declined in 2013. Review the NIH Data Book for more data or visit, to learn more about the SBIR/STTR programs.

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New Reforms to Federal Grant Policies

In February last year I blogged about the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)’s request for comments on proposed federal grant policy reforms. These policies, contained in multiple documents known as circulars, contain Fed-wide regulations on spending, not just for research grants. Many grantees and stakeholder organizations came forth and contributed comments. This information was taken into account by OMB to bring a number of these changes into fruition. The new guidance, “Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards”, was announced by OMB in December as one consolidated omnicircular. Here are just a few highlights:

  • New effort reporting guidelines give grantees much more flexibility in how investigators document their time and effort on their award.
  • Updated rules on charging administrative costs to grants as direct costs.
  • Updated rules on directly charging computing devices that are necessary and support the work of, but are not solely dedicated to, a Federal award.
  • Family-friendly policies allowing grantees more flexibility to address temporary dependent-care costs.
  • All types of grantee institutions are allowed a one-time extension of indirect (“F&A”) costs, i.e. the option of extending negotiated rates for up to 4 years subject to approval of the Federal agency.
  • Grantee organizations that have never received a negotiated indirect cost rate may choose to use a minimum 10% modified total direct cost rate instead.

There are many more changes contained in the new guidance, and OMB has provided some supplemental materials for those of you interested in detailed side-by-side comparisons of administrative requirements, cost principles, and audit policy changes. Stay tuned for NIH Guide notices regarding implementation as well.

I realize that not all the changes that our community suggested made it into the final version, but your input was instrumental in bringing about important modifications that are clarifying Federal cost principles and in some cases reducing administrative burdens. As always we will continue to monitor the impact of these changes and look for other opportunities to work with you to improve the way grants are administered.

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FY2013 By The Numbers: Research Applications, Funding, and Awards

I’m pleased to announce that the NIH Data Book has been updated with statistics of fiscal year 2013 grant funding. There is much to look at throughout the Data Book so I encourage each of you to do so, but let me just highlight some notable trends.

Application success rates, as I blogged about in December, declined in 2013 to a historic low. In fact, most of the numbers you are going to see throughout the Data Book went down because of the reduction of NIH’s budget due to the sequestration which lowered NIH appropriations by more than 5% or $1.55 billion below the previous fiscal year. So these smaller numbers, such as fewer new awards and lower application success rates, are not surprising.However, we also saw a small decline in incoming applications, the first since before the Recovery Act (ARRA) of 2009 which bolstered NIH application submissions for a number of years even after ARRA funding ended. Considering applications for FY 2013 funds come in during the previous fiscal year, this reduction in applications cannot be explained by sequestration, and may demonstrate the beginning of a trend, though it is too early to tell. Also, for the first time in recent memory, the average size of awards has gone down. This is likely because we had to accommodate the reduced appropriation and cut all continuing awards by a significant amount, not because we shifted to funding more smaller mechanisms such as the R21s, as these remained at the same proportion of total awards.

Let’s take a look at the numbers:

2012 2013
The overall success rate for competing research project grants (RPGs) declined. 17.6% 16.8%
The average size* of RPGs decreased. $454,588 $441,404
The average size* of RPGs in constant (1999) dollars is the lowest ever since 1999. $290,869 $277,653
In 2013, there was an decrease in the total amount of funding that went to RPGs. ** $15,923,746,065 $14,917,675,859
NIH received fewer R01-equivalent grant applications. + 29626 28044
Success rates for R01-equivalent applications decreased. 18.4% 17.5%
The average size* of R01-equivalent awards decreased. $419,321 $405,874
The number of R01-equivalent awards decreased. 5436 4902
R01-equivalents made up a slightly smaller percentage of the total number of RPG awards. 60.2% 59.0%
NIH received fewer R21 grant applications. 13,743 13,229
Success rates for the R21 decreased. 14.1% 13.4%
The number of R21 awards decreased 1,932 1,771
R21s made up the same percentage of the total number of RPG awards. 21.4% 21.3%
The total number of research grant applications received by NIH decreased. 63,524 61,013

*Average sizes are based on competing and non-competing awards from all funding sources.

**Amount of funding is the total competing and non-competing amount for each fiscal year, and not for the life of the project. Includes awards made with Direct Budget Authority, Superfund Budget Authority, and Reimbursable funds.

+ R01-equivalents include R01s and R37s. 98% of R01-equivalent awards are R01s.

These are just some of the updated data available in the NIH Data Book. For example, you can look at the awards by gender and see that about 30% of NIH-funded research grants are held by female PIs and that this has not changed substantially in the past few years. I’ve seen some questions as to how success rates are calculated, so I’d like to remind you that the success rate calculation is also described on RePORT, on the Success Rates page, where you can find even more in-depth information on success rates by institute, activity code, etc. Also, if you remember I’ve posted blogs on how success rates, pay line and percentiles differ, so you may want to go back to the most recent post about this for a refresher.

As FY2014 unfolds, we are optimistic that the budget situation will improve and that we will be able to restore the number of awards at least to a level above FY2013, and to support a higher proportion of the excellent applications we receive.

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Top Stories

Parent Career Development and Small Business Opportunities Reissued

Although it may be tempting to use a form you have previously downloaded to apply for an NIH grant, don’t! When NIH reissues funding opportunity announcements, you must use the most recent forms associated with those announcements for us to be able to receive your application submission. So if you are looking to apply to one of our parent research career development or small business opportunities, be sure to use the forms from our recently reissued announcement. You can find the new parent opportunities by searching the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts or, or by going to NIH’s page for parent announcements.

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New Resources

Quick Access to Standard Competing Application Due Dates

Applicants can now quickly zero in on grant application due dates for specific mechanisms (activity codes) using a new filter feature on the Standard Due Dates for Competing Applications table. For example: Interested in finding the standard due dates for R01 applications? Just type ‘R01’ in the filter box and the dates for New, Renewal/Resubmission/Revision, and AIDS applications will appear. You can also enter commonly used award program names such as “SBIR” and “AREA”.

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A Welcome Resource

NIH sends out  a “Welcome Wagon” letter to new (first-time) grantee organizations, providing important information critical to the successful administration and fiscal management of NIH awards. The letter covers a wide range of topics including reporting requirements, public policy requirements and where to find help. Whether you are new to grants administration, a seasoned NIH grantee, or hope to be funded soon, this consolidated information source – available to all online – is worth checking out to help you get to know NIH!

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New Videos Help You Find Your Way Around eRA

If you’re new to using the eRA Commons to check the status of your applications, be sure to take a look at our new tutorial series! So far we’ve produced a Status Screen Overview, a guide to Status Search Results, and a tutorial specifically for research administrators (Signing Official: Finding Information). Find these and other eRA videos on the eRA video page, and on the NIH Grants YouTube page.

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You Ask, We Answer

What is the Page Limit for Letters of Support for K (Research Career) Awards?

Unless the funding opportunity announcement instructs otherwise, the page limit is 6 pages for Letters of Support from collaborators, contributors, and consultants in addition to the 6 pages allowed for the Statements of the Mentor and Co-Mentor(s).

NOTE: These Letters of Support are now separated from the Plans and Statements of Mentor and Co-Mentors’ attachment; they are attached to the PHS 398 Career Development Award Supplemental form, Item #8. For more information, please see pages I-147 and I-149 of the SF424 R&R Application Guide Version C.



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How Should I Determine Requested Salary in My Application when the Legislatively Mandated Salary Cap is a Factor in the Calculation?

When preparing an application with a detailed budget, requested salaries should be determined based on actual, institutional base salaries, and not based on legislatively imposed salary limitations. NIH will make adjustments at the time of award using the applicable salary level.

When preparing an application with a modular budget, since the modules should be a reasonable estimate of costs allowable and appropriate for the proposed project, applicants should use the most current legislatively imposed salary limitation when estimating the number of modules.

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Monday, February 17, 2014: NIH Closed for Federal Holiday

NIH (including help desks) will be closed Monday, February 17, 2014 (Washington’s Birthday).  If a postmark/submission date falls on this federal holiday, the application deadline is automatically extended to the next business day.

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