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Some good news for all and very good news for early-stage and mid-career Investigators.
Undoubtedly everyone involved in any facet of biomedical research is aware that the current funding climate is difficult. The NIH budget, although increased incrementally by Congress, has been unable to keep pace with inflation. An excellent graphic illustration compiled by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) can be seen here. The lack of real increases in funding, coupled with an increasing number of NIH grant applications, has resulted in a success rate for new grants of around 16%. While this number includes all types of NIH applications, the results are similar for the most common funding mechanisms, R21 and R01.
One bright spot for researchers is the projected increase in the NIH budget for the remaining 2017 fiscal year (FY) ending September 30. As Congress had not passed a budget bill, the NIH has been funded by continuing resolution at an annualized level of $32.6B, almost changed from the FY 2016 level of $32.3B. However, in early May, Congress managed to pass a $1T omnibus spending bill that included a $2B increase in the NIH budget for the remainder of the FY.
Looking ahead, the President’s budget proposal for FY 2018 is of major concern, as it calls for a $5.7B cut in the NIH budget. Although unlikely to be enacted, this would represent a significant funding decrease, which could translate into the loss of several thousand grants. Ultimately, Congress sets spending levels and the Chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee has indicated his concern about the proposed cuts.
The NIH is particularly aware of the challenges facing new Investigators, and has subsequently developed specific policies and funding programs to support both new and early-stage investigators. Although these measures have helped new investigators, there has been a decline in the percentage of grants awarded to mid-career investigators. Therefore, on June 8, 2017, the NIH announced the launch of the Next Generation Researchers Initiative to increase support for both early-stage and mid-career investigators. The aim is to fund most of the top 25 percentile of applications from early-stage investigators and also from mid-career investigators that are about to lose all funding. In the first year, $210MM will set aside for the program and that will be increased over five years to ~$1.1B per year – enough to fund 2400 additional grants.
The initiative will go into effect immediately for those waiting on funding decisions and per Dr. Francis Collins, NIH Director, “there are investigators who were not going to get funded and who now will”.