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.

FOA for Clinical Trial Planning Grants

NIGMS supports research in specific clinical areas that affect multiple organ systems. We recently reissued the funding opportunity announcement for clinical trial planning grants of high relevance to the NIGMS mission. We strongly encourage investigators to apply for a planning grant before submitting an application for a full clinical trial in one of the clinical areas that NIGMS supports. The next application deadline is August 7, with optional letters of intent due by July 7.

If you’re interested in applying for a clinical trial planning grant, we recommend that you consult with the appropriate NIGMS program staff  before you apply to determine whether the goal of the proposed trial aligns with the NIGMS mission and scientific priorities.

For more information, see our Clinical Studies and Trials webpage, which includes links to other useful resources like the NIGMS Guidelines for Data and Safety Monitoring in Clinical Trials. In addition, please note that last year NIH announced a suite of policy changes known as Clinical Trial Stewardship Reforms that are designed to improve the clinical trial application and award process as well as the sharing of clinical trial data and results with other researchers and the public.

If you have any questions about NIGMS’ support of clinical trials, please contact me.

Webinar and Other Resources for New MIRA ESI Funding Opportunity

UPDATE: The slides from the MIRA ESI Funding Opportunity webinar have been posted.

NIGMS recently reissued the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program for Early Stage Investigators. The first application due date is October 3, 2017. As in previous years, the purpose of this MIRA mechanism is to provide support for the program of research in the laboratory of an early stage investigator (ESI) that falls within the mission of NIGMS. Here are some important points to know if you’re considering applying to this FOA:

  • To be eligible, you must have completed your terminal research degree (or medical residency) less than 10 years ago and must not have served as the principal investigator (PI) of a substantial NIH research award, e.g., an R01, P01, U01, SC1 or DP2. If you’ve served as the PI of one or more smaller awards, such as an R00, R03, R15, R21, SC2 or SC3, you retain your ESI status and can still apply to the ESI MIRA program. A complete list of the smaller grants and awards that do not affect ESI status is available on the Office of Extramural Research webpage.
  • ESI status can be extended for qualifying reasons, including but not limited to family care responsibilities or active military service. Here’s a complete list of qualifying reasons.
  • If you submitted a MIRA application in previous years and are still eligible for this FOA (i.e., retain ESI status), you’re welcome to apply but must submit a new application rather than a resubmission. A new application may still cover the same topics you proposed previously, but must not include any specific section explicitly designated as a response to reviewers.
  • If offered a MIRA, you must devote at least 51% of your time available for research to the award; however, note that taking less than 51% salary for the PI is allowed and in no case should more than 51% be requested.
  • Unlike previous rounds, you may have an NIGMS R01 application and a MIRA application under review at the same time. Should both applications score well enough to be considered for funding, you will be required to withdraw one or the other.
  • Applications that don’t fall within NIGMS’ mission will be returned without review, so be sure to contact me or the program director whose scientific area is closest to yours to discuss your proposal while in the planning stages!

These and many other topics related to the MIRA ESI FOA are covered in detail in a newly-released set of frequently asked questions.

We’ll also be hosting a webinar to discuss the FOA (no longer available) and answer your specific questions about the program on Monday, July 10, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. EDT. The site is compatible with mobile devices. For an audio-only presentation, call 1-888-989-5313 and enter passcode 8866047. We plan to post the archived webinar and slides on the MIRA webpage after the event.

NIH Staff Participating in July 10 Webinar

Jon Lorsch, Institute Director

Kristine Willis, Program Director

Brian Pike, Scientific Review Officer

Lisa Moeller, Grants Management Officer

Webinar for Students and Fellows Interested in NIGMS’ Postdoctoral Research Associate (PRAT) Program

UPDATE: The video and slides from the PRAT Program webinar have been posted.

We’re hosting a webinar for potential applicants to the PRAT Program on Tuesday, March 28, from 12:00-1:30 p.m. EDT. PRAT is a three-year program providing outstanding laboratory research experiences in NIH’s Intramural Research Program (IRP), access to NIH’s extensive resources, mentorship, career development activities and networking. The program places special emphasis on training fellows in basic biomedical research areas including cell biology, biophysics, genetics, developmental biology, pharmacology, physiology, biological chemistry, computational biology, immunology, neuroscience, technology development and bioinformatics.

The next receipt date for applications is October 3, 2017.  Applicants can be graduate students considering postdoctoral research opportunities or postdoctoral fellows with no more than two years of postdoctoral research experience by the time of appointment to the PRAT program (late summer 2018). All applications require connecting with an investigator in the NIH IRP in advance of writing the application.

To attend the webinar, join the Skype meeting (link no longer available) shortly before 12:00 p.m. EDT and enter the conference ID 8368072. You can also attend by phone by calling 301-480-4255. Slides will be posted on the PRAT website following the event.

We look forward to talking with you about the PRAT Program.

NIH Staff Participating in March 28 Webinar

Jessica Faupel-Badger, Director, NIGMS PRAT Program

Kenneth Gibbs, Program Director, NIGMS

Erika Ginsburg, NCI Authorized Organization Representative/Signing Official

Funding Opportunity to Develop Cryo-EM Online Instructional Materials

In addition to the currently active funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for national cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) centers, NIH has issued an FOA for research education program grants for cryo-EM curriculum development. Both FOAs are part of a new NIH/Office of Strategic Coordination Common Fund program being led by NIGMS and the National Eye Institute (NEI).

The research education grants will support investigator-driven development and dissemination of online educational materials, such as video-based tutorials, novel self-paced learning approaches and computer-based educational tools, to instruct biomedical researchers in the application of cryo-EM techniques, theory and analysis. Techniques include cryo-EM single particle analysis and cryo-electron tomography. Applications are due by July 25, 2017, with optional letters of intent due one month earlier.

If you have questions about the research education grants announcement, please email NEI’s Houmam Araj or call him at 301-451-2020. Please also help us get the word out by letting your community know of this opportunity.