When I was an editor at JAMA, we often considered papers that were strong, received favorable reviews, and yet could not be published for lack of space.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.