FY 2021 By the Numbers: Extramural Grant Investments in Research


Building on my 2021 reflections from January, we are presenting fiscal year (FY) 2021 extramural investments in research. The grant funding and success rate data presented here are in line with other related “By The Numbers” posts focusing on NIH’s annual enacted appropriations. Historical data may be found in the NIH Data Book, with FY 2021 data to be published soon. Spending related to special appropriations for coronavirus may be found using RePORTER’s advanced search capabilities.

In FY2021 NIH spent $32.3 billion of its total $42.9 billion appropriation for competing and noncompeting awards . This is a 5.1% increase (or $1.5 billion) in spending over the previous year. Note, these data do include monies for grants and other Transaction awards, but not research and development contracts.

Those funds supported 625 additional new and renewed extramural grants in FY 2021, for a total of 56,794 competing and non-competing awards (1.1% more than FY 2020). NIH issued awards to 2,696 academic universities, hospitals, small businesses, and other organizations throughout the U.S. and internationally.

Table 1 – All Extramural Research (competing and non-competing, excluding contracts)

2020 2021 2021 % Change from 2020
Number of Awards 56,169 56,794 1.10%
Total Amount (in billions) $30.76 $32.32 5.10%

Our success rate for new research project grants (RPGS) fell from 20.6% in FY 2020 to 19.1% in FY 2021. We calculate success rates by dividing the number of awards made in a FY by the number of applications received; applications having one or more amendments in the same fiscal year are only counted once. Though we issued 103 fewer RPG competing awards compared to the previous year (11,229 compared to 11,332), this alone would not explain a 1.5% drop in the success rate. We received 3,834 more applications in 2021 than 2020 (58,872 compared to 55,038), which is the more likely reason. The average cost per RPG rose in 2021 to $581,293, an increase of $14,549 over 2020 (or 2.8%).

Table 2 – Research Project Grants (RPG)

2020 2021 2021 % Change from 2020
Number of research project grant (RPG) applications: 55,038 58,872 7.0%
Number of new or renewal (competing) RPG awards: 11,332 11,229 -0.9%
Success rate of RPG applications: 20.6% 19.1% -7.4%
Average size of RPGs: $566,744 $581,293 2.6%
Total amount of NIH funding that went to RPGs (both competing and non-competing): (in billions) $22,636 $23,280 2.8%

Most RPGs are R01-equivalent grants, and they showed similar trends. We spent $18.1 billion more on R01-equivalents compared to FY2020, a 4.2% increase. The R01-equivalent grant success rate fell (similar to RPGs) 1.3 percentage points to 20.1% in FY 2021. We spent $11,881 more on average on R01-equivalents in 2021, totaling $571,561 (2.1% increase over 2020).

Table 3 – R01-equivalent Grants*

2020 2021 2021 % Change from 2020
Number of R01-equivalent grant applications: 36,250 37,987 4.8%
Number of new or renewal (competing) R01-equivalent awards: 7,767 7,627 -1.8%
Success rates for R01-equivalent applications: 21.4% 20.1% -6.3%
Average size of R01-equivalent awards: $559,680 $571,561 2.1%
Total amount of NIH funding that went to R01-equivalents (both competing and non-competing): (in billions) $17.412 $18.134 4.2%

*R01-equivalent grants are defined as activity codes DP1, DP2, DP5, R01, R37, R56, RF1, RL1, U01 and R35 from select National Institute of General Medical Sciences and National Human Genome Research Institute program announcements. Not all these activities may be in use by NIH every year.

Please note that NIH does not report the number of applications received in specific research areas, and thus does not report success rates for those areas either.

I would like to thank my colleagues within the NIH Office of Extramural Research’s Division of Statistical Analysis and Reporting for their work on this analysis.



  1. The numbers are large but vague, with crucial details absent. Psychiatric clinical researchers have been bemoaning the absence of clinical funding as NIMH pursues brain neuroscience almost exclusively despite the rise in most psychiatric disorders during the pandemic. (See, for example: Torrey EF et al: Psychiatric Services 2021; 72:1342–1344; Torrey EF and Dailey L: Psychiatric Services 2022;73:247-248; Markowitz JC and Friedman RA: Psychiatric Services 2020;71:1096-1097,) Unfortunately, the NIMH budget is (seemingly intentionally) opaque. Can you please provide an accurate breakdown of how much actual clinical treatment research (and that doesn’t just mean any research involving humans) NIMH is actually funding?

    Thank you.

    1. You may be interested in looking at the NIH categorical spending information for “clinical research” that you can find by going to the Categorical Spending page in RePORT. There you have the ability to drill down into the category of interest to see specific projects, sortable by Institute. You can also export information to manipulate in Excel.

  2. Is the average size of R01-equivalent awards (571,561 in FY21) the cost for all years, as I would assume. Are indirect costs included or is that average the direct cost? It would be nice to see average duration as well.

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