I’m going to discuss the fiscal year 2011 research project grant (RPG) success rates, and in doing so, I’m showing you a few screen shots from the NIH Funding Facts tool on RePORT, so you see how easy it is to use the site yourself to find some nifty information.
Delving further into what’s behind the fiscal year 2011 RPG success rates, we queried:
- Topic: number of applications and awards, and success rates
- Funding mechanism: Non-SBIR/STTR research project grants
- Type: All competing applications
- Fiscal Year: 2010 and 2011
It is easy to see in the resulting hit list the reason for the decline in RPG success rates from 2010 to 2011. There were 3,609 additional applications, and 656 fewer awards in fiscal year 2011.
Many More R21 Applications
Focusing on the success rates for two of the most-frequently used grant activities in the RPG category (R01s and R21s) provides a more complex picture.
The number of competing R21 applications increased by 17% (1,904), accounting for more than one-half of the total increase in the number of RPG applications. The increase in the number of R21 applications alone accounts for nearly all of the decrease in R21 success rates from 15% to 13%.
R01 Success Rate Is a Result of Several Factors
The R01 picture is more complicated; the increase in R01 applications accounts for only 1-point of the 4-point drop in the R01 success rate. The remainder of the decrease is accounted for by a combination of several factors.
The NIH budget was reduced by 1%
As you recall, the fiscal year 2011 budget was reduced by 1%, resulting in a reduction in funding for R01s of $117 million. This reduction affected competing awards disproportionately because in any given year, the proportion of the NIH budget for R01s that is tied up in commitments (funding for non-competing continuations), can range from approximately 70 to 80 percent. This brings us to the next factor—funding ongoing research.
NIH funds grants incrementally
NIH funds most RPGs on an incremental basis—approved awards are funded for an initial budget period (typically one year), and subsequent budget periods are funded as non-competing continuation awards out of the current year’s appropriation. The commitments to the non-competing continuation awards in any given year can be considered a fixed cost, and any reduction (or increase, e.g., during the NIH doubling from 1999-2003) in the NIH budget would disproportionately affect our ability to make competing awards. Even with a cut to the non-competing continuations by 1% (or 3% in the case of NCI), the amount committed to ongoing research in fiscal year 2011 increased by $189 million. This demonstrates how carefully we need to manage our funds since funding decisions in any one year have implications for the out years.
These two factors, the reduction in the budget and the increased commitments, accounted for the majority (2.5 points) of the 4-point drop.
The average cost of R01 awards increased
An increase in the size of an award contributed the remaining 0.5-point drop in R01 success rates. While not keeping up with the costs of doing research (as indexed by the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index), the cost of R01 awards did increase by 2% in fiscal year 2011.
So what’s the story?
To summarize, the 4-point drop in R01 success rates (the biggest driver of overall RPG success rates) can be traced to:
|An increase in R01 applications:||1.0%|
|NIH budget reduction:||1.0%|
|Increase in commitments:||1.5%|
|Size of award:||0.5%|
While the success rate number is often cited as the indicator of the state of funding at NIH, it is very complex, and certainly, there is not a simple relationship between the success and the quantity of science supported by us. Success rate may be more closely equated with an indicator of competition, at least within some mechanisms, but even then, it is not straightforward. Hope you find these data as interesting as I did.