Early Notice: Mature Synchrotron-Based Resources Funding Opportunity Plan

At its September 2015 meeting, our Advisory Council endorsed a concept for funding existing NIGMS-supported synchrotron resources in which the technologies have become mature. This plan will align the funding mechanism used to support the beamlines with the goal of ensuring reliable access to these essential resources for structural biology.

In place of the variety of mechanisms we currently use, we intend to issue a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) called Mature Synchrotron Resources (P30) for 5-year, renewable grants in the range of $1-3 million per year in direct costs. The Institute intends to maintain overall support for mature beamline facilities at the same level it has in the past, but to replace the previous constellation of funding mechanisms with a single, more coherent one.

The focus of the FOA will be on user access, training and support in data collection, processing and analysis. Peer review will assess the resources primarily on their ability to meet the research needs of the user community and on the impact the resources have on their users’ scientific productivity. To ensure that the beamlines maintain their state-of-the-art operations, the FOA will also include support for a limited amount of technology development and implementation.

Since the goal of the effort is to improve the stability of current NIGMS-supported synchrotron structural biology resources for community use, the initial funding opportunity will be open only to synchrotron-based resources already supported by NIGMS.

We welcome your input and feedback on these plans. You can email your comments to me or post them here.

Charles Edmonds, Susan Gregurick, Ward Smith and Mary Ann Wu contributed to this blog post.

Update on Proposed Pilot to Support NIGMS Investigators’ Overall Research Programs

NIGMS Advisory Council meetingAt last week’s Advisory Council meeting, I presented a report on the comments we received in response to our request for information (RFI) on a potential new program for research funding.

As described in the blog post announcing the RFI, the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program would provide a single award in support of all of the projects in an investigator’s lab that are relevant to the NIGMS mission. A MIRA would be longer and larger than the current average NIGMS R01 award.

We received more than 290 responses through the official RFI comment site. We heard from individual investigators as well as several scientific organizations. Most of the responses were positive, and both established and early stage investigators indicated that they were very likely to apply.

The respondents identified the most valuable aspects of the proposed program as:

  • Increased flexibility to follow new research directions as opportunities and ideas arise,
  • Savings of time and effort currently spent on writing and reviewing applications, and
  • Enhanced stability of research support.

However, some responses expressed concerns, which we are taking into consideration. Despite the intention of the program to optimize the distribution of NIGMS resources, some respondents thought that it could lead to funds becoming concentrated in fewer labs at the most elite institutions. This was in part a reflection of the phased implementation plan, which would focus initially on investigators with more than one NIGMS grant. Respondents urged NIGMS to broaden the eligibility criteria as quickly as possible following the initial pilot phase. Other concerns that were raised related to peer review and program evaluation.

For more about the RFI results, including a breakdown of responses by question, watch my presentation, which begins at 2:18 on the archived videocast.

The Advisory Council discussed the MIRA proposal and then approved plans to proceed with developing the program. We plan to issue a funding opportunity announcement in early 2015, with the first awards being made in Fiscal Year 2016. We intend to evaluate the MIRA program and if it is successful, will broaden it.

Transitioning the Pharmacogenomics Network

PGRN LogoAt our September Advisory Council meeting, I presented plans for transitioning the Pharmacogenomics Research Network (PGRN) from set-aside funding into the regular, competitive research pool. Council approved the plans, so we are now moving forward on them. The reshaped program will continue to fund research and network activities designed to propel discovery and implementation. We will also continue to coordinate our support of pharmacogenomics and precision medicine with other NIH institutes and offices.

Our transition plans include soliciting applications for a limited number of research centers (P50) and network resources (R24) as well as the PharmGKB knowledgebase (R24) and a coordinating center to support network functions (U01). New funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) will be published in early 2014, with application due dates beginning in the late spring. These FOAs will be program announcements with multiple receipt dates that are open for several years and will not have set-aside funds.

All investigators with an interest in pharmacogenomics who are funded through these and other mechanisms may indicate a desire to participate in the network beginning in July 2015. Many network activities will be based on the PGRN and other successful models.

I welcome your input on these changes.

Early Notice: Genomes to Natural Products FOA

Natural products have been a prolific source of therapeutic drugs because they have been selected through evolution to be biologically active.  New opportunities for natural products development are being made by genomic discoveries and are poised to reinvigorate this critically important area.

At its September meeting, the NIGMS Advisory Council approved a new initiative that will use the cooperative agreement (U01) mechanism to support collaborative and multidisciplinary research aimed at developing high-throughput, broadly applicable approaches for natural products discovery that integrate genomics, synthetic biology and bioinformatics. Research under this initiative will provide the scientific community with tools and knowledge for inferring the basic structure of natural products and for producing natural products, regardless of whether the source is cultivable or the biosynthetic operon is expressed in cultures.

We expect the funding opportunity announcement to be published in the NIH Guide early in 2013. In the meantime, I encourage you to start talking with potential collaborators and thinking about applying.

For more on the current challenges of natural products discovery, read a Nature Chemistry article Exit icon written by NIGMS Advisory Council member Scott Miller of Yale University and Jon Clardy of Harvard Medical School that summarizes discussions during our 2009 Natural Products and Biomedical Science symposium.

Funding Allocation for Research Project Grants in Fiscal Year 2012

In this 200th Feedback Loop post, I’d like to share budget slides I presented earlier this month during the open session of our National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council meeting. The session also included updates on several of our initiatives as well concept clearances for two new ones, which are briefly described in the meeting summary.

As part of my acting director’s report, I presented our Fiscal Year 2012 funding plan and focused specifically on our budget for research project grants (RPGs), which includes mostly R01s. The figures below are based on a budget estimate for Fiscal Year 2012, which begins on October 1. Since NIH has not yet received an appropriation for the next fiscal year, the estimate assumes that the budget will be at approximately the Fiscal Year 2011 level.

Figure 1 breaks down the total NIGMS budget of about $2.034 billion into its major components and shows that 67% of the budget will support RPGs. Of that portion, we will use around 76% to pay noncompeting grants (commitments on grants already awarded). This leaves about 23% for competing grants and 1% for supplements.

Figure 1. Fiscal Year 2012 Breakdown

Figure 1. Fiscal Year 2012 breakdown of the estimated NIGMS budget into its major components. About 67% of the budget will support research project grants (RPGs), and of that, 76% will be used to pay noncompeting grants, 23% to pay competing grants and 1% to pay supplements.

Figure 2 breaks down the competing RPG budget. It shows that 93% will be used to pay investigator-initiated research and that the remaining 7% will fund mainly R01 grants submitted in response to requests for applications (RFAs), which have been carefully considered by NIGMS staff in consultation with the scientific community and have been approved by our Advisory Council during the concept clearance process.

Figure 2: NIGMS FY 2012 Breakdown of Estimated Competing RPG Budget

Figure 2. Fiscal Year 2012 breakdown of the estimated competing RPG budget. About 93% of the budget will be used to pay investigator-initiated research, and the remainder will fund R01 grants submitted in response to RFAs.

The final figure shows that the portion of the competing RPG budget spent on investigator-initiated research during the last 8 years has varied between 87% and 94%, further indicating that NIGMS commits a relatively small amount of RPG funds to grants that are not investigator-initiated.

Figure 3. Comparison of RPG Budgets in Fiscal Years 2004-2011

Figure 3. Comparison of RPG budgets in Fiscal Years 2004-2011 for investigator-initiated research versus set-asides for grants in response to specific RFAs. During this period, the portion spent on investigator-initiated research has varied between 87% and 94%.

Maintaining “Legacy” Scientific Resources

Our research programs often produce valuable scientific resources. But if one of these initiatives ends, then what becomes of the resource it generated?

To address this issue, we formed a committee of NIGMS staff to explore options for maintaining scientific resources resulting from NIGMS-supported research. We defined a resource as a non-hypothesis-driven activity to provide data, materials, tools or services that are essential to making the most timely, high-quality and cost-efficient progress in a field. We proposed principles for continuing support of “legacy” resources that are of great benefit to researchers working within the Institute’s mission areas.

Based on our discussions, we recommended that NIGMS pilot a limited program to fund the maintenance of existing, high-value resources. The NIGMS Council approved the concept in May, and the funding opportunity announcement just appeared in the NIH Guide. Applications are due once per year in October.

If you are interested in applying, read the announcement for details, including the special eligibility requirements. And before you apply, be sure to contact the appropriate NIGMS division director to discuss your ideas.

We hope that the results of this limited pilot program will help guide future decisions about maintaining important research-generated resources.

Early Notice: Program Projects for Collaborative Research on the Basic Biology of Pluripotency and Reprogramming

It’s safe to say that the discovery that human non-embryonic cells can be reprogrammed to an embryonic stem cell-like state has created a lot of excitement in the scientific community. These cells provide a wonderful opportunity to investigate the fundamental molecular and genetic properties of pluripotent cells.

Last month, the NIGMS Council approved a new grant program that will focus on studying the basic biology of pluripotency and reprogramming, with an emphasis on human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. This initiative will use the program project (P01) mechanism to support collaborative research that advances a comprehensive understanding of the basic biology of pluripotency, the molecular events and mechanisms of reprogramming, and the epigenetics and epigenomics of the pluripotent and reprogrammed states.

Once the funding opportunity announcement has been published in the NIH Guide later this summer, we will post it on the Feedback Loop site. In the meantime, I encourage you to start talking with potential collaborators and thinking about applying.

Apply Now for Microbe-Host Interactions Grants

Back in May, I described a concept clearance for a new grant program focused on microbe-host interactions. A number of readers commented on the post, and I was delighted to see the early interest in this new program, as well as other related programs at NIH.

The RFA has now been published in the NIH Guide.

We’re soliciting applications for projects that will reveal the basic principles and mechanisms that govern host-associated microbial community structure and function through studies in the following areas: model systems, community physiology, community genetic interactions, community dynamics, and technology development. Please note that research projects designed solely to carry out metagenomic sequencing or surveys of microbial diversity are outside the scope of this program.

We plan to make 5-6 R01 awards totaling $2.5 million in fiscal year 2010. Letters of intent are due December 15, 2009, and applications are due by January 15, 2010.

Early Notice: New Microbial-Host Interactions Grants

Microorganisms are everywhere–in and on our body, and in our environment. We know that these microbial communities affect our health and the health of plants and animals that we depend on. Yet, we know very little about the physiology and ecology of these communities and their interactions with their hosts.

Today, the NIGMS Council approved a new grant program that will focus on studying the basic principles that govern microbial community structure and function within a host. Research under this program will advance our understanding of the basic biology of microbial communities. It also has the potential to provide clues for developing new strategies to promote human health and treat or prevent diseases.

Once the funding opportunity has been published in the NIH Guide in early August, we will post it on the Feedback Loop site. In the meantime, I encourage you to send me comments and start thinking about applying.