FY2015 by the Numbers, and a Quick Look at Recent Trends


When I was an extramural program division director, NIH applicants and awardees would often ask me questions like “Do you fund research on certain topics?” or “What’s been happening to success rates for certain kinds of grants?” or “How much money do certain kinds of grants usually get?” Often I would respond by going to the RePORT website and running a query or two (or three or more); I would not only show the results but also show the applicant/awardee how to run even more queries on their own. Indeed the website offers an extraordinary data resource for the public, ranging from the RePORTER query tool to find certain kinds of grants, to a bounty of prepared reports, to tools for exporting large data tables about projects, resulting publications, and (more recently) patents. With the Matchmaker tool, one can even copy and paste some text (e.g. a draft abstract of your next proposal) and find similar funded grants.

The NIH Data Book on our RePORT website now incorporates NIH’s fiscal year 2015 data. Let’s reflect on funding trends over the past three years, and other recently updated application and award summary data.

We received 52,190 competing research project grant (RPG) applications at NIH in fiscal year 2015, an increase compared to prior years, and the highest number of applications ever received by NIH in a fiscal year. Of these, 28,970 were applications for R01-equivalent grants (as a reminder, R01-equivalents are mostly R01s, but also include activity codes for similar independent RPG programs such as the R37 MERIT award.)

Looking at data across both competing and non-competing awards, the average size of RPGs increased to a historical high ($477,786) in FY 2015; however, looking at the average RPG size using inflation-adjusted dollars or “constant dollars” with 1998 as the base, the average RPG award amount held steady. Similarly, in FY 2015 the average size of R01-equivalent awards was the highest in history ($435,525), but roughly the same as the previous two years when viewed as constant dollars. These data illustrate the often-made observation that NIH funding struggles to keep up with inflation.

The success rate for competing FY 2015 RPG applications was similar to last year (18.3% compared to 18.1% in FY14). The 2015 success rate for competing R01 equivalent applications was also roughly the same as last year (18.9% compared with 18.8% in FY14). Success rates continue to remain far below the 30% levels we saw 15 years ago, during the NIH doubling; the low success rates reflect the hypercompetitive environment we continue to face.

The table below highlights these, and other commonly-requested facts found in the NIH data book. We encourage you and your colleagues to explore these data, use them to better understand how NIH invests its monies, and to bring up questions that may better help us understand your perspectives and concerns.

  2013 2014 2015
Number of research project grant (RPG) applications: 49, 581 51,073 52,190
Number of RPG awards: 8,310 9,241 9,540
Success rate of RPGs applications:  16.8% 18.1% 18.3%
Average size of RPGs: $441,404 $472,827 $477,786
Total amount of NIH funding that went to RPGs (both competing and noncompeting): $14,917,675,859 $15,635,912,476 $15,862,012,059
Number of R01-equivalent grant applications: 28,044 27,502 28,970
Number of R01-equivalent awards: 4,902 5,163 5,467
Success rates for R01-equivalent applications: 17.5% 18.8% 18.9%
Average size of R01-equivalent awards: $402,569 $427,083 $435,525
Total amount of NIH funding that went to R01-equivalents (both competing and non-competing): $10,075,486,256 $10,238,888,890 $10,279,687,172


  1. What are average size of RPGs/average size of R01-equivalent awards ? Are they annual total costs? Annual direct costs? Something else?

  2. It looks like the amount of money going to competing RPGs has increased dramatically (24% if you take # of awards x average funding for competing RPGs), presumably while non-competing RPG funds have gone down. What does that mean? Is that significant?

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