The Diversity Program Consortium – Open Competitions for Phase II

We are pleased to announce that NIH Leadership has granted clearance for the second, final phase of the Diversity Program Consortium (DPC), a national program that is part of a larger, trans-NIH effort to enhance diversity in the biomedical research workforce. To accomplish this goal, the DPC takes a scientific approach to evaluating training and mentoring interventions. Two components of the second phase will be open competitions: the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) and the DPC Dissemination and Translation Awards (DPC-DaTA). The DPC-DaTA grants will allow sites that are not currently part of the DPC to implement sustainable training, mentoring, or research-capacity building interventions using DPC evaluation methods. NIH intends to release the DPC-DaTA FOAs in 2019.

The NRMN funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) were released on February 16, 2018. They include:

  • The Science of Mentoring and Networking (U01) (RFA-RM-18-004). Applicants may submit proposals for research projects in the following areas: 1) The Science of Mentorship, 2) Professional Networking, or 3) Navigating Critical Career Transition Points. Using randomized control trial approaches, case controls, matched pair designs, or other rigorous designs, applicants will explore their research questions and contribute to building the knowledge base to inform the scientific community about their thematic area.
  • NRMN Coordination Center (U24) (RFA-RM-18-003). One service award will be granted to develop an NRMN Coordinating Center. This Center will build upon and improve the current NRMN Administrative Core and work in conjunction with the Center for Evaluation and Coordination (CEC). It will coordinate trans-NRMN activities, and provide infrastructure and expertise surrounding data collection, storage, de-identification, and reporting.
  • NRMN Resource Center (U24) (RFA-RM-18-002). One service award will be granted for an NRMN Resource Center. This center will be analogous to the current U54 Mentorship and Networking Core and will provide a web-based mentoring tool to facilitate real-time mentor/mentee engagement. It will also oversee management of the NRMN website and serve as a platform for publicly available mentoring resources and tools.

Two components of the DPC for the second phase will be limited competitions. The Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) (U54) (NOT-RM-18-005) will allow meritorious sites to complete their BUILD experiments. Review will include a focus on site-specific and consortium-wide experiments, and emphasize sustainability and dissemination. The Center for Evaluation and Coordination (CEC) (U54) (NOT-RM-18-006) will allow for uninterrupted data collection. The review will focus on the current center’s strengths and weaknesses, allowing for improvements and course corrections. Sustainability and dissemination will be emphasized.

Contact for questions? Mercedes Rubio for NRMN inquiries, Anissa Brown for BUILD inquiries, Michael Sesma for CEC inquiries, and Alison Gammie for DPC-DaTA inquiries.

Discontinuing Our Participation in the NRSA Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (Parent F31) Program

We recently issued an NIH Guide notice informing the community that we will discontinue participation in the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (Parent F31) (PA-16-309). As stated in the notice, we will not accept new or resubmission applications for this program, and its subsequent reissuances, starting with the April 8, 2018, receipt date. We will continue to accept NRSA Individual Predoctoral Fellowships to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (F31) (PA-16-308) and NRSA Individual Predoctoral MD/PhD or Other Dual-Doctoral Degree Fellowships for Students at Institutions Without NIH-Funded Institutional Predoctoral Dual-Degree Training Programs (F30) (PA-16-306). This decision does not affect those F31 (parent) applicants who have already received an award from NIGMS or whose applications have already been received by NIH and have been reviewed or are currently pending review.

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New Area for NIGMS Predoctoral Training

NIGMS has a longstanding commitment to graduate training and has for many years supported research training in 11 broad areas of basic biomedical science, including Behavioral-Biomedical Sciences Interface; Bioinformatics and Computational Biology; Biostatistics; Biotechnology; Cellular, Biochemical, and Molecular Sciences; Chemistry-Biology Interface; Genetics; Molecular Biophysics; Molecular Medicine; Pharmacological Sciences; and Systems and Integrative Biology.

With publication of the NIGMS’ new predoctoral training grant funding opportunity announcement, the list now includes Transdisciplinary Basic Biomedical Sciences. This new area is designed to broaden the scope of disciplines supported by an NIGMS training grant and increase the geographical distribution of institutions that might apply.

The transdisciplinary area is open only to a) institutions that currently do not have an NIGMS-funded institutional predoctoral T32 training program in any of the basic biomedical science disciplines listed above (with the exception of Behavioral-Biomedical Sciences Interface or Biostatistics), or b) institutions with current NIGMS-funded predoctoral T32 training programs that propose to merge two or more of their existing NIGMS-funded predoctoral training programs into a single program. Training supported in this area is expected to be broadly-based and multidisciplinary in nature and may be covered by the other NIGMS-supported areas of basic biomedical science disciplines, or may include other emerging area(s) within the NIGMS mission.

Applications for the Transdisciplinary Basic Biomedical Sciences area will be accepted for the May 25, 2018, receipt date and thereafter.

We welcome your comments and questions—they can be posted here, emailed to me, or you may call 301-594-3900.

Webinar for Regional Technology Transfer Accelerator Hubs for IDeA States FOA

UPDATE: The slides and video Exit icon from the Regional Technology Accelerator Hubs webinar have been posted.

If you or your institution are considering applying for our Regional Technology Transfer Accelerator Hubs for IDeA States (STTR) funding opportunity—a new initiative designed to promote biomedical entrepreneurship—don’t miss our upcoming webinar:

Wednesday, November 15, from 3:00-4:30 p.m. ET.

During the webinar, NIGMS and Center for Scientific Review staff will explain the goals and objectives of the initiative and answer your questions. You are encouraged to submit questions by November 13 to Krishan Arora.

To join the webinar, visit the WebEx meeting page Exit icon. If you are unable to attend online, you can join by phone by calling 1-650-479-3208 from anywhere in the United States or Canada and entering the access code 628 562 389.

NIGMS Staff Participating in the November 15 Webinar:

Krishan K. Arora, Program Director, NIGMS

Joseph Gindhart, Program Director, NIGMS

Christy Leake, Grants Management Team Leader, NIGMS

Allen Richon, Scientific Review Officer, NIH Center for Scientific Review

Slides will be available on the IDeA website following the event.

We look forward to talking with you soon.

New NIGMS Funding Opportunity: Collaborative Program Grants for Multidisciplinary Teams

We’ve published a new funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to support multidisciplinary, collaborative team research in scientific areas within the mission of NIGMS. The Collaborative Program Grant for Multidisciplinary Teams (RM1) aims to support highly integrated, interdisciplinary teams working toward a common scientific goal. The RM1 program replaces NIGMS Program Project Grants (P01) and most of NIGMS’ P50 centers programs (with the exception of the Structural Biology of HIV/AIDS centers). The first receipt date for the new program is January 25, 2018.

RM1 applications should have a unified scientific goal within the NIGMS mission that requires a team with diverse perspectives and expertise in a variety of intellectual or technical areas. We are seeking projects that are challenging, ambitious, and innovative, with the potential to produce lasting advances in their fields. Unlike many larger programs, NIGMS Collaborative Program Grants require one integrated research plan and a separate management plan that addresses shared leadership, responsibility for decision making and resource allocation, and opportunities for professional development and credit. Optionally, the team can expand to support early stage investigators (ESIs) in pilot projects that enrich program objectives and help the ESIs obtain independent funding.

In general, we expect that the research supported by Collaborative Program grants will be the primary focus of the principal investigators (PIs) rather than being in addition to the main work going on in their individual laboratories. Guidelines for investigator effort and details about how the PIs’ other support will be considered when making funding decisions can be found in the FOA and on the Institute’s website. Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to discuss research plans with NIGMS staff before submission.

If you have any questions about NIGMS Collaborative Program Grants, please contact Drs. Susan Gregurick or Paul Sammak.

New NIGMS Institutional Predoctoral Training Grant Funding Opportunity Announcement

We’ve just released a new training funding opportunity announcement (FOA) specifically tailored for predoctoral graduate programs in the basic biomedical sciences. Through this FOA, we intend to encourage changes in biomedical graduate training that allow it to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the research enterprise, which is increasingly complex, quantitative, interdisciplinary, and collaborative.

The overarching objective of this new predoctoral T32 training program is to develop a diverse pool of well-trained scientists who have the following:

  • A broad understanding across biomedical disciplines, and the skills to independently acquire the knowledge needed to advance their chosen field.
  • The ability to think critically, independently, and to identify important biomedical research questions and approaches that push forward the boundaries of their areas of study.
  • A strong foundation in scientific reasoning, rigorous research design, experimental methods, quantitative and computational approaches, as well as data analysis and interpretation.
  • A commitment to approaching and conducting biomedical research responsibly and with integrity.
  • Experience initiating, conducting, interpreting, and presenting rigorous and reproducible biomedical research with increasing self-direction.
  • The ability to work effectively in teams with colleagues from a variety of cultural and scientific backgrounds, and to promote inclusive and supportive scientific research environments.
  • The skills to teach and communicate scientific research methodologies and findings to a wide variety of audiences (e.g., discipline-specific, across disciplines, and the public).
  • The knowledge, professional skills, and experiences required to identify and transition into careers in the biomedical research workforce (i.e., the breadth of careers that sustain biomedical research in areas that are relevant to the NIH mission).

Because diversity at all levels is integral to research and training excellence, this FOA is also intended to fund outstanding research training environments that support trainees from all backgrounds, and to enhance diversity in the biomedical enterprise by paying particular attention to the inclusion of individuals from groups underrepresented in the biomedical sciences.

The goal is of this FOA is to enable the community to develop and implement innovative approaches to training and mentoring that will effectively and efficiently train future generations of outstanding biomedical scientists. This funding announcement is designed to allow biomedical graduate education to preserve the best elements of the current system, while enhancing the focus on the trainee development of the technical, operational, and professional skills needed to transition into successful and productive careers in the biomedical research workforce.

The new FOA will apply to all NIGMS predoctoral T32 training grants submitted for receipt dates beginning May 25, 2018, except the Medical Scientist Training Program, which will remain on the parent T32 announcement for now. Because this is a new funding announcement, all applications (including those from previously established programs) must be submitted as new (-01), however applicants may describe up to 15 years of outcomes in the narrative.

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can email your questions and comments or post them here.

Multiple Principal Investigator (MPI) Application – When Is it the Right Choice?

For some time now, NIH has offered the Multiple Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) Award, also known as the MPI award, as an option for investigators seeking support for research projects. At NIGMS, we’ve been thinking about collaborative research, and we want to share some of our observations so you can choose the grant mechanism that best fits your research goals.

An MPI application is a commitment by two or more investigators. Both/all have the authority to direct the research project, should agree on how they are going to accomplish this, and will describe their project leadership plan in the grant application. If awarded, both/all have the shared responsibility to direct the research and ensure that it remains on track both intellectually and logistically. Some examples of these shared tasks include experimental design, resource allocation, supervision of staff, financial management, data sharing, and submission of publications. The responsibilities can be rotated over time. If both/all investigators are not full and equal partners in the award, it isn’t really an MPI project.

The MPI award was developed to share credit among equals on research teams. In contrast, some applicants want to use MPI awards to accomplish unintended goals, for example, to elevate a junior scientist, to entice a luminary colleague who might not otherwise get involved, to add a new technical approach to the research, or to support a collaborator at another institution. However, there can be costs associated with such strategies:

  • A young scientist PD/PI will lose her/his early stage investigator (ESI) status, which offers the advantage of having an application grouped with other ESIs at the initial review group meeting, a higher priority funding consideration, and sometimes a fifth year of an award.
  • All PD/PIs will be considered under NIGMS’ policy for Support of Research in Well-Funded Laboratories, so that if any investigator has greater than $750,000 in direct costs awarded annually, then the entire application will receive extra scrutiny by our National Advisory Council.
  • Furthermore, any PDs/PIs who fall under NIGMS’ policy for funding Investigators with Substantial, Unrestricted Research Support may hold no more than one NIGMS research grant.

Other types of awards, including a single PD/PI regular research grant (R01), may be better alternatives to an MPI award for supporting collaborative research. Here are a few points that investigators should consider:

  • Collaborators often play an important role in a project and may commit specific effort and receive funds from an award. If at another institution, funds essential to accomplish the research can be delivered through a subcontract.
  • Another viable way to enable an individual to participate in a research project is to name a consultant in the necessary area of expertise. Consultants can receive a fee for their work, if appropriate.
  • Almost any relationship can be well-documented in a letter of support, so that the initial review group recognizes an established and committed scientific relationship.

The MPI award fills an important niche. But the mechanism can be misunderstood and may even be misused to the detriment of one or more of the PD/PIs. Always look carefully at the continuum of opportunities to support multidisciplinary research programs and collaborative research.

Starting this fall, NIGMS anticipates offering a new award called the Collaborative Program Grant for Multidisciplinary Teams (RM1), which is designed to support highly integrated teams of researchers working to achieve a shared objective. Watch the Feedback Loop posts and talk to your NIGMS program director to learn more.

Heads-up: New Application Forms for Human Subjects Research

Does your research involve human specimens or data? If so, there are new questions you’ll need to address next time you apply for an NIH grant. Here’s what you need to know about that and other changes to NIH grant application procedures.

Effective for application due dates on or after January 25, 2018, all applicants will have to use the new FORMS-E application package. A major goal of the FORMS-E application package is to consolidate information about human subjects research and clinical trials into one place—the new PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information form. This form will use a variety of form fields to collect information on eligibility criteria, age limits, study timeline and design, and many other aspects of the proposed human subjects research/clinical trial. Comprehensive information is available at Clinical Trial Requirements for NIH Grants and Contracts.

Even if you indicate on the Research & Related Other Project Information form that human subjects are not involved in your project, you will need to address an additional question on the new PHS Human Subjects and Clinical Trials Information form:

If No to Human Subjects, Does the proposed research involve human specimens and/or data?
If the applicant answers YES to this question, an additional attachment describing why the proposed human specimens and/or data are not considered human subjects research must be included in the grant application.

Another change beginning with the January 25 application due date is that all applications involving one or more clinical trials must be submitted through a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) specifically designed for clinical trials. Accordingly, all new FOAs and all parent announcements will specify the allowability of clinical trials in the FOA title. Please see Clinical Trial-Specific Funding Opportunities for more information about the changes to FOAs.

It is a good idea to discuss the new Human Subjects and Clinical Trial form with your grants administrators and institutional business officials and to allow extra preparation time for your first FORMS-E grant submission. Your NIGMS program director will be able to help you identify the correct FOA for your proposed research. If you have any questions about human subjects policy or NIGMS’ support of clinical trials, please contact me.

Five MIRA Myths

Our Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program is still relatively new, so it’s not surprising that NIGMS staff frequently hear misconceptions about it. This post dispels five common MIRA myths.

Myth 1: Once an investigator is awarded a MIRA, the budget will never increase.

MIRA budgets may increase. At the time of the competing renewal application, a principal investigator (PI) may request an increase in funding. MIRAs with modest budgets that have been very productive and score very well could receive budget increases. Study sections will be asked to look at budget requests, and NIGMS staff will make determinations based on the reviewers’ recommendations and available funds.

Myth 2: Early stage investigators will receive more funding for their labs if they get an R01 than if they get a MIRA.

A MIRA PI who is an early stage investigator (ESI) has a higher probability of receiving more NIGMS funding than a non-MIRA ESI. Most ESI MIRA investigators receive $250,000 in direct costs per year. A recent analysis found that the vast majority of ESIs who have received an NIGMS R01 are initially awarded $200,000 or less, and most do not go on to receive a second NIGMS R01 during the first five years of their initial award. Thus, the total NIGMS funding for most relatively new investigators is higher with a MIRA.

Myth 3: MIRA discourages collaborative research.

NIGMS strongly endorses collaborative research, and this extends to the MIRA program. However, the MIRA concept is based on the idea that NIGMS will provide support to individual investigators’ research programs. Collaborators are expected to work together because of their mutual interest in a problem. The collaborator, in most cases, will support his or her efforts with independent funding, not through a subcontract from the MIRA. In cases where a collaborator’s efforts are well-justified, essential to the research program of the MIRA and cannot be supported by the collaborator, a consortium agreement can be included in the competing application.

NIGMS also encourages scientifically productive international collaborative research efforts. However, NIGMS will only provide funding for a foreign consortium arrangement when the collaboration is essential to the PI’s research program, represents a unique scientific opportunity and cannot be supported by the collaborator.

Myth 4: MIRA PIs cannot apply for administrative supplements.

MIRA PIs are eligible for Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research and may be eligible for other types of administrative supplements, such as equipment supplements offered by NIGMS through notices in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts. In rare situations, NIGMS may provide a supplement for a piece of equipment that could not have been anticipated at the time the application was submitted.

Myth 5: MIRA PIs cannot apply for NIGMS training grants or conference grants.

MIRA PIs are eligible to apply for grants that support research resources, training, workforce development or diversity building, clinical trials, selected cooperative agreements, SBIR/STTRs, conference grants and the portion of a center grant or a P01 that is strictly a core. In addition, a MIRA PI may receive grants from other NIH institutes or centers, although when making funding decisions NIGMS always considers an investigator’s other support, as described on our Funding Policies page.

More information, including answers to frequently asked questions, is on the MIRA page.

New Program Announcements for Biomedical Technology Research Resources

I would like to call your attention to two program announcements recently published in the NIH Guide:

These announcements provide updated instructions for both pre-applications and full applications for Biomedical Technology Research Resource (BTRR) grants. The BTRR program supports development and dissemination of advanced technologies that enable biomedical research The BTRR centers create a wide range of technologies and work with thousands of NIH-supported investigators each year.

The X02 pre-application is strongly recommended. The pre-application provides an opportunity for prospective applicants to receive feedback from both peer reviewers and NIGMS program staff as they formulate their plans for a complex, lengthy proposal for a P41 grant.

Following an evaluation in 2016, we have revised the BTRR program, while preserving the fundamental mission of developing and providing access to advanced technologies. Susan Gregurick, director of our Biomedical Technology, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology Division, presented on the evaluation and proposed program changes at the September 2016 NIGMS Advisory Council meeting.

Revisions to the program have changed the structure of a BTRR to give the investigators who run the centers more flexibility in how technologies are shared with the community. A new feature, “Technology Development Partnerships,” will enable centers to rapidly adopt and incorporate emerging technologies developed elsewhere that advance a BTRR’s overall mission, rather than focus entirely on technologies developed “in-house.”

The program also will provide investigators with greater flexibility to tailor a center’s approach to technology innovation, user access and training, and dissemination according to the specific technologies being developed and communities being served. At the same time, the program will place a greater emphasis on actively moving technologies out of the BTRR and into the wider community as quickly as possible. We anticipate that most BTRR centers will not be funded beyond three cycles (15 years), and we will require investigators involved with this program to formulate a sustainability plan for their research resources.

The submission date for the first round of X02 pre-applications is August 15, 2017. Future submission dates will follow a regular schedule, occurring twice per year in March and July. That timing allows nine months from submission of the X02 until the anticipated submission of a resulting full application in January or May, respectively.

The next submission date for full applications for a P41 BTRR is September 25, 2017. This is the only submission date for funding in Fiscal Year 2018. In future years, applications will be accepted twice per year, in January and May, with no September submission. To improve consistency in the review of competing applications, the NIH Center for Scientific Review will convene a special study section to review all NIGMS P41 BTRR applications together. There will be no site visits.

NIGMS also supports technology development through several other programs. To help investigators determine which technology development program is right for their project, we’ve posted a decision tree on the NIGMS website. It includes descriptions of the programs designed to support specific stages of technology development.

I welcome questions or comments about these FOAs or our technology development programs in general.