NIGMS maintains a diverse biomedical research portfolio, supporting a wide range of topics and investigators. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, NIGMS received a congressional appropriation of $2,991,417,000. As part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022, this budget increased by 3.4% to $3,092,373,000 for FY 2022. The majority of these funds support research project grants (RPGs) at research institutions throughout the country. In alignment with its commitment to transparency, NIGMS publishes data on annual trends in its grants portfolio. In this post, we first describe investigator-level trends for RPGs, then review the trends associated with competing RPGs, and lastly examine trends in the Institute’s Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program.
NIGMS Investigator-Level RPG Trends
Consistent with our focus on supporting a broad group of investigators, we monitor two statistics that describe our investigator pool: the cumulative investigator rate and the number of funded early stage investigators (ESIs). Increasing the number of newly funded ESIs is especially integral to the continued success of the biomedical research enterprise and is a priority for the Institute [PDF]. Figure 1 illustrates the number of ESIs who received their first competing NIGMS R01-equivalent grants each year between FY 2012 and FY 2021. In FY 2021, NIGMS awarded R01-equivalent grants to 293 ESIs in total: 38 investigators received R01 awards, 234 investigators received R35 (MIRA) awards, and 21 investigators received NIH Director’s New Innovator Awards (DP2s). These data include 13 DP2 awards administered by NIGMS on behalf of the NIH Office of the Director. The number of funded ESIs in FY 2021 who received MIRA grants was the largest to date and a notable increase over the number of investigators funded each year since the inception of the MIRA program.
The number of funded ESIs has risen almost every year since FY 2013, with the slight decrease in the number of awards between FY 2017 and FY 2018. This shift is due in part to the introduction of the MIRA program in FY 2016 and the leveling off of the ESI applicant pool as more ESIs received funding. The MIRA funding opportunity, which we examine in greater detail later in this post, has prompted an increase in the number of applications from ESIs. In addition, NIGMS has proactively implemented NIH-wide Next Generation Researchers Initiative (NGRI) policies that encourage increased support for ESI applications. Fundamentally, NIGMS has aimed to support more investigators without loss of support for existing ones. A more extensive analysis of the R01 and MIRA funding rates and budget changes are detailed in this post.
NIGMS ESIs Awarded R01-Equivalent Grants
Figure 1. Number of NIGMS Competing R01, R35, and DP2 ESI Awardees, FY 2012-2021. Illustrated are the number of unique ESIs receiving support for their first major competing R01 (solid black bars), R35 (blue-striped bars), or DP2 (solid gray bars). In FY 2019, ESI R01 awards include one U01 award. Numbers from FY 2019 onward reflect NIH’s updated definitions of ESI-eligible applications as delineated by the NGRI.
The cumulative investigator rate is another measure of investigators’ success in receiving NIGMS funding. The rate represents the number of investigators who receive funding (competing or noncompeting) in a given fiscal year compared to the number of investigators actively seeking funding at some point in that fiscal year or in the previous 4 fiscal years. It measures the percentage of funded NIGMS investigators among those who want to be funded by the Institute. Figure 2 shows the number of investigators who submitted R01 and/or R35 applications, those who received competing or noncompeting awards, and the cumulative investigator rate from FY 2010 to FY 2021. In FY 2021, the cumulative investigator rate (43.2%) was similar to the value in the previous year (42.6%).
NIGMS Competing R01/R35 Applicants, Awardees, and Cumulative Investigator Rates
Figure 2. Number of NIGMS R01/R35 Applicants, Awardees, and Cumulative Investigator Rates, FY 2010-2021. Applicants (blue dashed line with circles; left axis) represent the number of unique investigators who had been actively seeking R01 and R35 support in the indicated fiscal year or in the previous 4 fiscal years. Awardees (green solid line with squares; left axis) are the number of unique applicants who received competing or noncompeting NIGMS R01 and R35 support in the indicated fiscal year. NIGMS funded 4,190 awardees in FY 2021, an increase from the 4,128 awardees in FY 2020. The cumulative investigator rate (gray dotted line with triangles; right axis) represents the number of funded NIGMS investigators in a given fiscal year divided by the number of investigators actively seeking funding at some point in that fiscal year or in the previous 4 fiscal years. The cumulative investigator rate was similar between FY 2020 and FY 2021 (from 42.6% to 43.2%). This and all subsequent figures do not include grants associated with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
NIGMS Competing RPG Trends
NIGMS annually measures its application-level success rate, or the number of applications funded relative to the number of distinct applications received. Figure 3 illustrates the number of competing NIGMS applications and awards and the associated success rates for RPGs from FY 2010 to FY 2021. The success rate in FY 2021 was 33.4% and is a slight increase from FY 2020 (32.3%). Note that award rates are contingent upon factors such as the number of incoming applications, overall budget, existing commitments, and funding policies. The lower number of applications in FY 2021 is part of a continuing trend in recent fiscal years. Two factors may be contributing to this observed decline. First, investigators funded by MIRA are limited in the number of other applications they can submit to NIGMS—a fact offset by higher award rates, funding stability, and increased scientific flexibility of the MIRA program. Second, when success rates are high, the increased number of investigators who already hold funding may lead to fewer additional competing applications because funded investigators are less likely than unfunded ones to submit applications. As MIRA becomes an increasingly large percentage of the Institute’s portfolio (details below), ongoing changes to the number of RPG applications are expected.
NIGMS Competing RPG Applications, Funded RPGs, and Success Rates
Figure 3. Number of NIGMS Competing RPG Applications, Funded RPGs, and RPG Success Rates, FY 2010-2021. The number of RPG applications submitted in the indicated fiscal year (blue dashed line with circles; left axis) reflects that a total of 3,551 applications were submitted in FY 2021, compared to the 3,596 applications submitted in FY 2020. The number of funded competing RPGs in the indicated fiscal year (green solid line with squares; left axis) conveys that NIGMS funded 1,185 competing awards in FY 2021, an increase from 1,161 awards in FY 2020. The RPG success rate (gray dotted line with triangles; right axis) is the percentage of unique reviewed project proposals that received funding. To calculate the success rate, applications for the same project submitted more than once in the same fiscal year are counted only once. The success rate of 33.4% in FY 2021 is a slight increase from that of FY 2020 (32.3%).
In Figure 4, we illustrate R01 applications and award distributions across the percentile range for FY 2021. More than half of applications scoring below the 29th percentile received funding, whereas a progressively decreasing percentage of applications receiving funding above the 29th percentile. This trend is in line with the longstanding NIGMS practice of not using a percentile cutoff (“payline”) to make funding decisions. Likewise, some applications with highly favorable scores weren’t funded, in part due to considerations such as ESIs submitting both an R01 and MIRA application and being awarded a MIRA, as well as applicants having substantial forms of other research support per the NIGMS funding policies.
NIGMS Competing R01 Funding Distribution by Percentile, FY 2021
Figure 4. Funding Distribution of NIGMS Competing R01 Applications by Percentile, FY 2021. Applications submitted in FY 2021 with percentile scores between the 1st and 29th percentile were funded most frequently (solid green bars), with a few exceptions in the percentiles above 29. Unfunded applications (striped bars) constitute the remainder of applications in the higher percentiles.
NIGMS MIRA Trends
We noted earlier that the number of ESIs funded each year has been increasing over the past few years, especially the number of ESIs receiving MIRAs. Figure 5 extends the data to include established investigators. Together, these data show the trends in all R01 and MIRA grants since FY 2015, illustrating the growth in the MIRA program since it began. The representation of MIRA grants relative to R01 awards has steadily increased each year, and in FY 2021 MIRA represented 42% of the MIRA/R01 awards, an increase of 9 percentage points from the previous fiscal year. This trend indicates that investigators are increasingly applying to and receiving funding from MIRA. As outlined in the NIGMS strategic plan [PDF], one of the Institute’s goals is for MIRAs to comprise at least 60% of the R01-equivalent pool by FY 2025.
NIGMS Trends in R01 / MIRA R35 Awards
Figure 5. Number of NIGMS Competing R01 and MIRA Grants, FY 2015-2021. NIGMS awarded 2,433 R01 grants (blue-striped bars; left axis) and 1,735 MIRAs (orange bars; left axis) in FY 2021. The number of MIRAs relative to the overall number of R01 awards and MIRAs (black line with circles; right axis) has steadily increased each fiscal year. Distinct projects refer to funded core projects (e.g., R01GM999999) in a given fiscal year. Supplements are excluded.
The final part of this blog post focuses on the MIRA applications from EIs and ESIs and their overall impact scores for FY 2020 to FY 2021. Currently, MIRA applications receive only overall impact scores and are not percentiled because the standing MIRA review panels have existed only for a short time and additional special-emphasis panels also review applications, making percentiling unfeasible.
Figure 6 shows the distribution of overall impact scores in FY 2020 to FY 2021 for EI MIRA applications. Most applications with an overall impact score of 45 or under were funded, whereas applications receiving scores over 45 were less likely to receive funding. These data align with the trends observed for funding in the MIRA program in previous years.
EI MIRA Applications: FY 2020-2021
Figure 6. Number of Funded and Unfunded EI MIRA Applications by Overall Impact Score, FY 2020-2021. EI MIRA applications tend to be funded (solid green bars) at overall impact scores between 10 and 45. The concentration of unfunded applications (striped bars) are at scores above 45. Not included are applications with overall impact scores greater than 60.
Figure 7 shows the impact scores of MIRA applications from ESIs for FY 2020 to FY 2021. ESI and EI MIRA applications are reviewed separately from one another so that each group can be reviewed relative to its career stage. As illustrated in this figure, a majority of ESI MIRA applications with overall impact scores at or below 50 were funded.
ESI MIRA Applications: FY 2020-2021
Figure 7. Number of Funded and Unfunded ESI MIRA Applications by Overall Impact Score, FY 2020-2021. ESI MIRA applications with overall impact scores between 10 and 50 were generally funded (solid green bars). The concentration of unfunded applications (striped bars) are at scores above 50. Not included are applications with overall impact scores greater than 60.
NIGMS will continue to monitor and report funding trends and will regularly update the community on activities within the Institute’s portfolio.