We’ve just released a new funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). Through this FOA, we intend to encourage changes in integrated medical and graduate research training to keep pace with the rapid evolution of a research environment that is increasingly complex, interdisciplinary, quantitative, and collaborative.
Continuing our efforts to help modernize graduate education, we sought input from the community through a Request for Information (RFI) on strategies to enhance our physician-scientist training grants to medical schools across the country. These grants, funded through the Ruth L. Kirschstein Institutional Predoctoral Training Grant (T32) Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), provide M.D.-Ph.D. dual degree students with an integrated program of biomedical sciences and clinical training. The RFI was open from June 9 to August 9, 2017. There were 16 themes in the RFI that were broadly binned into the following categories:
- Trainees (e.g., time of recruitment to the MSTP, diversity of the applicant pool, and selection criteria)
- Financing/funding (e.g., how different M.D.-Ph.D. funding models influence the range of institutions that apply for MSTP support, the pool of trainees, and the trainees’ commitment to research careers)
- Dual-degree training (e.g., time-to-degree, integration of curriculum, training areas, mentoring, and career advising)
- NIGMS management of MSTP grants (e.g., size, number, and distribution of training programs; evaluation of outcomes; and peer review)
NIGMS has a longstanding commitment to developing the next generation of biomedical scientists through a variety of programs, including the M.D.-Ph.D. dual degree Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). This program provides Ruth L. Kirschstein Institutional Predoctoral Training Grant (T32) awards to medical institutions that are responsible for training physician scientists. The Physician-Scientist Workforce Working Group Report [PDF, 6.2 MB] of NIH’s Advisory Committee to the Director highlighted the decline of physician scientists as a percentage of overall NIH principal investigators. NIH data presented at the 50th Anniversary Medical Scientist Training Program Symposium showed that while earlier cohorts of MSTP trainees were highly successful in achieving independent research careers and NIH grant support, more recent graduates have been less successful. Many factors may contribute to this difference, including lengthening of the post-M.D.-Ph.D. training period before achieving independence and increased competition of investigators for limited research funds and positions.
We are seeking input from the biomedical research community and other interested groups through a Request for Information (RFI) on strategies and ideas for the modernization of physician-scientist training that can be addressed through the MSTP.
More specific topics are included in the RFI, but examples of broad areas of interest are:
- Trainees (e.g., time of recruitment to the MSTP, diversity of the applicant pool and selection criteria)
- Financing/funding (e.g., how different M.D.-Ph.D. funding models influence the range of institutions that apply for MSTP support, the pool of trainees and the trainees’ commitment to research careers)
- Dual-degree training (e.g., time-to-degree, integration of curriculum, training areas, mentoring and career advising)
- NIGMS management of MSTP grants (e.g., size, number and distribution of training programs; evaluation of outcomes; and peer review)
- Anything else specific to MSTP training that you feel is important for NIH to consider with respect to enhancing M.D.-Ph.D. training and the persistence of physician-scientist trainees in research careers (note that changes in post-M.D.-Ph.D. training and future research support are outside of the scope of this RFI)
Responses can be submitted via an online form and can be anonymous. The due date for providing input is August 9, 2017.
In an earlier blog post, I presented data on the first competing renewal rates of R01 projects that NIGMS awarded to new and established investigators. The analysis showed that no renewal application was submitted for a substantial percentage of projects—30% of new projects from new investigators and 45% of new projects from established investigators. This raises questions, such as those suggested by Feedback Loop readers, including:
- Do projects for which no renewal is submitted generally have less productivity or scientific impact?
- Are new projects awarded to established investigators more likely to represent the second or third award to that investigator?
I’ve tried to explore these questions in a further analysis.
The successful entry and retention of new investigators into biomedical research is a priority for us, and the renewal rate of this group’s first R01 research grants is an important indicator for this goal. Here are the results of an analysis I did of the first competing renewal rates for new and established investigators.
Figure 1 shows that the first competing renewal rate of new investigators’ first NIGMS R01 or R29 grants has declined over the past 10 years. This trend is similar to the one for overall NIGMS R01 application success rates.
Figure 2 gives a more complete picture of the renewal history of new investigators’ NIGMS R01 and R29 projects. In addition to the renewal rate (also shown in Figure 1), it shows the percentage of projects for which at least one renewal application was submitted but was not successfully renewed as well as the percentage of projects for which no renewal application was submitted.
Figure 3 shows that success in renewing an NIGMS-funded R01 grant correlates positively with how long the grant has been active.
Since first renewals have lower success rates than subsequent renewals, Figure 4 addresses whether new investigators seeking to renew their first R01 grants are competitive with established investigators who are renewing long-term and/or new projects. The figure shows that the renewal rate for all projects from established investigators, including new as well as long-term projects, is higher than the renewal rate of projects from new investigators (46 percent in the left column versus 36 percent in the right column). However, when focusing only on the first renewals of new projects (in the middle and right columns), new investigators are renewing at a higher rate than are established investigators (36 percent versus 30 percent).
Figure 5 shows the relative success of new and established investigators in renewing new projects as a function of the percentile score obtained on the initial award. As the “Paid” sections of the bars indicate, for each of the percentile groups, the overall renewal rate for new investigators’ new R01s was higher than that for established investigators’ new R01s.
Recognizing the importance of new investigators in sustaining the vitality of biomedical research, we give special consideration to applications from them, and in some cases, we fund these applications at percentiles beyond those for most established investigators. The data in Figure 5 supports this practice by showing that the renewal rates of new investigators whose original applications scored at or above the 20th percentile are about the same as, or higher than, those for new and established investigators whose original applications scored in the 0-9th percentile range.
More About This Analysis
This analysis includes Recovery Act projects and excludes withdrawn applications and multi-principal investigator grants.
R01 projects: Research project grants.
R29 projects: First Independent Research Support and Transition (FIRST) awards, R01-type research project grants awarded to new investigators available from 1987 to 1998.
Renewal rate: Percentage of grants that were successfully renewed by the date of this analysis (end of Fiscal Year 2014), regardless of whether a new or amended competing renewal application was funded.
Grant year: Grant year in which the renewal R01 application was submitted.
New investigator: An individual who has not previously competed successfully as a program director/principal investigator for a substantial NIH independent research award (see http://grants.nih.gov/grants/glossary.htm#NewInvestigator).
I previously described our effort to solicit feedback from investigators on their needs and ideas for outsourcing laboratory procedures. Now I’d like to share a summary of the overall results (no longer available) and some observations based on the 35 responses we received (mostly from academia):
- Unexpectedly, almost all of the services mentioned by respondents constitute technologies or methodologies currently available for outsourcing. The most frequently identified ones—next-generation sequencing, bioinformatics/statistics and mass spectroscopy—are offered as services by numerous companies and core facilities.
- Several marketplace-type platforms have recently been launched that facilitate bringing together researchers and providers of desired laboratory expertise, technology and research services. For a short list, see the news articles included in this post.
- Evaluating the quality and cost of procedures available for outsourcing is not always straightforward. Similarly, assessing a laboratory’s actual costs for specific procedures, some of which could be outsourced, is difficult. Performing such economic analyses could reveal new needs for outsourcing laboratory procedures.
While we realize that the feedback we received may not be representative of the whole community, the results lead us to conclude that there does not appear to be a need for a special initiative to develop novel outsourcing capabilities.
NIGMS program directors are often asked why most of our grants are made for 4 years. We’ve just posted this brief explanation on our Web site:
NIH is required by Congressional mandate to keep the average research project grant (RPG) length to 4 years. Since NIGMS primarily uses the R01 mechanism for RPGs and participates in few short-term mechanisms (such as the R21), it limits most R01 awards to 4 years.
NIGMS does award some grants for 5 years, including research program projects and centers. The Institute also funds 5-year R01s to most new and early stage investigators to provide extra time for getting their projects under way.
The limitation on the average length of RPGs has been in effect at NIH for more than 10 years, and it helps ensure that funds are available to support new competing awards.
What does it mean for you? Keep applying for project periods that are adequate for the proposed work and are for a maximum of 5 years. But be aware that unless you fall under the exceptions mentioned above, your award will most likely be limited to 4 years of funding.
Do you want to have more or easier access to state-of-the-art technologies and methodologies for your research? Are there specific types of non-clinical laboratory procedures that you wish were available through an outsourcing service?
If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, then please consider responding to our Request for Information (RFI): Priorities for Outsourcing of Laboratory Procedures. The RFI will help us identify research areas, such as assays, measurements and computational and data management tasks, that could be developed into outsourced services perhaps by small businesses and possibly supported through new funding opportunities.
Responses, which are voluntary and anonymous, should be submitted electronically (no longer available) by
May 1, 2012.
UPDATE: The response deadline has been extended to May 15 (NOT-GM-12-110).