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Introducing the Stephen I. Katz Early Stage Investigator Research Grant Program

Photo of Dr. Steve Katz

Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D.

Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D., led the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases from 1995 until his passing in 2018. Dr. Katz was a talented physician scientist, NIH leader, and civil servant throughout his career who was profoundly dedicated to mentoring and training the next cadre of scientists. During his memorial service at NIH, you can see this dedication on full display. I, along with countless NIH colleagues, were blessed with Dr. Katz’s mentoring and sage advice. That is why, in his honor, we are pleased to announce the publication of Funding Opportunity Announcements for the Stephen I. Katz Early Stage Investigator Research Project Grant program (PAR-21-038 and PAR-21-039).

We know that early stage investigators (ESIs) experience intense competition for funding, which poses a challenge when embarking upon and sustaining an independent research career. This is one of the reasons we launched the NIH Next Generation Researchers Initiative (NGRI) in 2017 (see these blogs for more). NGRI, amongst other features, prioritizes funding for ESIs across NIH. As a testament to its success, NGRI has helped NIH to go from supporting less than 600 ESIs in FY 2013, to 1,316 in FY 2019, and at least that number in 2020.

The new Katz R01 award program will build on these successful NGRI efforts. ESIs may apply for this new opportunity to support their innovative ideas if they are proposing research that is a change in direction from their past work and experience, and for which they have no preliminary data.  For those ESIs who have preliminary data for research projects or those who want to continue on with their current research direction, NIH’s Parent R01 funding opportunities are still available.

Photo of Dr. Katz with early career scientists in 2018.

Why the focus on no preliminary data? Well, this means that talented individuals can still seek NIH funding and pursue creative and innovative scientific hypotheses even though they lack the initial findings.  Moreover, this should expand pathways and opportunities for those early in their career, something called for by the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director in their 2018 NGRI working group report.

An investigator, importantly, would also be able to pursue a new direction through this program. These could include exploring a new approach, testing a new technique, using a new methodology, or even investigating a new paradigm in biomedicine. As part of their application, they will need to explain how the research direction is new to them and not an obvious or incremental extension of their prior efforts.

And what about peer review? All applications received as part of this funding opportunity announcement will be clustered and reviewed together in appropriate NIH standing study sections. This further aligns with related NGRI efforts giving applications from ESIs special consideration during peer review.

The first due date for applications is January 26, 2021.  Be sure to read the entire funding opportunity announcement before applying and this additional guidance for prospective applicants. We look forward to receiving your ideas.

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3 thoughts on “Introducing the Stephen I. Katz Early Stage Investigator Research Grant Program

  1. Though interesting initiative by NIH, wouldn’t this award mechanism misdirect the applicants and awardees who are ESIs and recipients of R and K grants that preserve their ESI status to work on applications that require no preliminary data instead of their current projects. Further, ESI applicants will be enticed into applying for these awards compared to K awards that require more meticulous planning, grant preparation as well as a mentored phase as compared to these R01s where they will have no restrictions including seeking further NIH funding. Also, by nature if the projects under these R01s are without proof of principle, thereby face high likelihood of failure (otherwise no need for preliminary data as NIH review criteria) and thereby successful grantees stranded without further funding after the end of their grant period and loss of ESI status. This will create a pool of awardees not only with insufficient training and lots of confusion. Until the data is available, the number awards under this mechanism should be very few and should be only awarded to highly meritorious applications with exceptional ideas and outstanding scores similar to early independence and innovator awards from NIH.

  2. As a new and ESI, I have 30+ publications, however, reviewers critique that many of my publications have an impact factor less than 5. How do you ensure the reviewers and study sections disseminate the information on “giving applications from ESIs special consideration during peer review” for those that are triaged and not discussed to ensure a fair review for ESI?

  3. I’m sorry this mechanism is restricted to R01-level grantees. This excludes R-15 eligible institutions that offer another career path,which is often more desirable by under-represented minorities who value teaching as well as research. It would be good to have a way to support all ESIs regardless of their career track if NIH wants to do more to promote DEI in biomedical research. But any attention to the ongoing concerns and needs of ESIs is welcome as long as sufficient data is collected to assess and modify the programs as needed. Take care!

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