At the Advisory Committee to the Director meeting last week, NIH Principal Deputy Director Dr. Larry Tabak presented a new NIH initiative to strengthen the biomedical workforce. This presentation followed extensive discussions with stakeholders both here through this blog, at stakeholder meetings, and at NIH advisory council meetings over the last month. We heard unequivocal endorsements for supporting early-career and mid-career researchers given the hypercompetitive funding environment — a challenge we have addressed many times in our blog posts. However, many voiced concerns about our taking a formulaic approach to capping grant funding and called on us to be more direct in enabling greater support for the next generation of biomedical researchers.
For this reason, we have shifted our approach to a focused initiative to support early- and mid-career investigators. As described in a June 8 NIH Director’s statement, and in recognition of the call for such action in the 21st Century Cures Act, we are naming this effort the Next Generation Researchers Initiative. We will take a multi-pronged approach to increase the number of NIH-funded early-stage and mid-career investigators and stabilize the career trajectory of scientists. We describe these approaches on a new web page that we will continue to update. Our activities address both research workforce stability, and evaluation of our investments in research. In brief, NIH will:
- commit substantial funds from NIH’s base budget, beginning this year with about $210 million, and ramping to approximately $1.1 billion per year after five years (pending availability of funds) to support additional meritorious early-stage investigators and mid-career investigators
- create a central inventory and track the impact of NIH institute and center funding decisions for early- and mid-career investigators with fundable scores to ensure this new strategy is effectively implemented in all areas of research
- place greater emphasis on current NIH funding mechanisms aimed at early- and mid-career investigators
- aim to fund most early-career investigators with R01 equivalent applications that score in the top 25th percentile
- encourage multiple approaches to develop and test metrics that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of our research portfolio, and assess the impact of NIH grant support on scientific progress, to ensure the best return on investment
Applicants do not need to do anything special to be eligible for this funding consideration. Beginning this fiscal year, the NIH institute or center (IC) who would fund the grant will give your application special consideration for support if you are:
- an early-stage investigator (within 10 years of completing your terminal research degree or medical residency and have not previously received a substantial independent NIH research award) and receive a score in the top 25th percentile (or an impact score of 35 if the application is not percentiled)
- a mid-career investigator (within 10 years of receiving your first NIH R01 equivalent award) who scores in the 25th percentile, and either:
- are at risk of losing all support, or,
- are a particularly promising investigator currently supported by a single ongoing award (i.e, NIH will prioritize funding an additional concurrent research project grant award)
NIH ICs make funding decisions to support their mission, and this plan provides flexibility in how ICs will meet the NIH-wide goal of supporting highly scoring early-stage and mid-career researchers. Each IC will make its decisions about how it will prioritize funding to support this initiative.
As further details are announced, we will be updating the Next Generation Researchers Initiative web page with this information. In the meantime, we encourage you to read the NIH Director’s statement, and look at the Advisory Committee to the Director presentation and webcast recording.
We appreciate your feedback in addressing the very important issue of stabilizing the biomedical research workforce. Your comments to this blog (or via email, if preferred) are welcome. With the continued input from individuals at every career stage, as well as research institutions and other stakeholders, we can work together to make changes that ensure the long-term stability and strength of the U.S. biomedical research enterprise, and that advance science to improve health for all.