Examining Our Large-Scale Research Initiatives and Centers, Including the PSI

There have been a lot of discussions lately at NIGMS about large-scale research initiatives and centers. In these conversations, we have drawn a distinction between initiatives and centers focused mainly on research and those focused mainly on resources. Examples of the latter include our human cell repository, synchrotron light sources, and databases, all of which serve the biomedical community in critical ways and, in most cases, require sustained support. In contrast, many of us feel that the primary purpose of research-focused initiatives and centers is to open untapped scientific areas, providing an initial, targeted investment that enables the research to develop sufficiently so that it can be sustained through other grant mechanisms, such as R01s and P01s.

Our discussions have led to the question of whether, when and how research initiatives and centers should be ended. Should all new research initiatives and centers have hard “sunset clauses” built into them, for example at 10 years, similar to what is done for projects funded by the NIH Common Fund? Or should it be possible for them to continue indefinitely as long as they are sufficiently productive?

An additional consideration is that many of our currently funded initiatives and centers were developed during the period in which the NIH budget was doubling (see figure). With a large infusion of new investment into biomedical research, it made sense to use a significant portion of the funds to open up new scientific territory through large-scale exploration in ways that were not previously possible.

Center Funding as a Proportion of the NIGMS Budget
Fiscal Years 1998-2012
Growth of NIGMS funding for centers (blue bars, left axis) for Fiscal Years 1998-2012. The total NIGMS budget each year during the same period is also shown (red line, right axis). The numbers on top of each blue bar represent the percentage of the total NIGMS budget committed to centers in that year. The data for 2012 do not include the funds for the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program or the Biomedical Technology Research Centers program, which were transferred to NIGMS from the former National Center for Research Resources in that fiscal year.
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Growth of NIGMS funding for centers (blue bars, left axis) for Fiscal Years 1998-2012. The total NIGMS budget each year during the same period is also shown (red line, right axis). The numbers on top of each blue bar represent the percentage of the total NIGMS budget committed to centers in that year. The data for 2012 do not include the funds for the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program or the Biomedical Technology Research Centers program, which were transferred to NIGMS from the former National Center for Research Resources in that fiscal year.

In the current budget environment, in order to start a new program or bolster support for existing priorities such as investigator-initiated research, other programs must be adjusted or ended.

These issues will be central as we begin a strategic planning process to ensure that we are using the most effective and efficient mechanisms to invest the taxpayers’ money in fundamental biomedical and behavioral research. We have already begun carefully examining our existing portfolio of research initiatives and centers and considering how to balance continued support for them with other priorities and opportunities.

At last week’s National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council meeting, Council members and staff discussed the future of one existing large-scale program, the Protein Structure Initiative (PSI). The Council heard the results of a midpoint evaluation of the PSI’s third 5-year phase, PSI:Biology. The evaluators found that PSI investigators have determined an impressive number of high-quality protein structures and that some of the program’s accomplishments, including methodological ones, could not have been readily achieved through R01-type investigator-initiated grants.

The evaluators concluded that the PSI will reach a point that no longer justifies set-aside funding and, as a result, strongly recommended that NIGMS begin planning the sunset of the PSI, being careful to identify resources developed by the initiative that should be retained for use by the biomedical community.

After numerous internal discussions and consultation with the Council, we have decided to follow this advice and begin planning to sunset the PSI in its current format after the completion of PSI:Biology in 2015. We are setting up two transition-planning committees, one made up of NIGMS staff and representatives from several other parts of NIH, and a second made up of scientists from the research community. These committees will work together to recommend the best methods for phasing out the program and identifying critical resources that should be retained. The committees will also suggest emerging challenges and opportunities in structural biology that may require new, smaller-scale targeted support.

The committees and NIGMS will need a great deal of input from the biomedical community as this transition-planning process moves forward. I hope that you will freely share your thoughts and suggestions with us, now and in the future.

Budget Outlook for Fiscal Year 2013 and Beyond

As a result of the sequestration, the NIGMS full-year appropriation for Fiscal Year 2013 was reduced by about 5% compared to Fiscal Year 2012. This reduction brings our operating budget to $2,291,294,437. Our financial management plan outlines the Institute’s fiscal policies, which are consistent with NIH’s policies:

Research Project Grants (RPGs)

  • Inflationary increases will be discontinued for all competing and noncompeting awards (both modular and nonmodular).
  • All noncompeting grants will be reduced by 3.5% from the Fiscal Year 2013 committed level. Commitments in Fiscal Year 2014 and beyond will remain unchanged.
  • Overall average costs for competing RPGs will be at approximately the Fiscal Year 2012 level. Inflationary increases for future-year commitments will be discontinued.
  • Fiscal Year 2013 noncompeting awards that have already been issued at a reduced level will be revised upward to reflect the 3.5% reduction.
  • New investigators on R01-equivalent awards will be supported at a success rate equivalent to that of established investigators submitting new (Type 1) R01-equivalent applications.

Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards

  • The stipend levels established in Fiscal Year 2012 will be continued this fiscal year.

Centers and Other Mechanisms

  • Noncompeting awards will be reduced by 3.5% from the initial Fiscal Year 2013 committed level.

Fiscal Year 2012 R01 Funding Outcomes

Fiscal Year 2012 ended on September 30, 2012. As in previous years, we have analyzed the funding results (including percentiles and success rates) for R01 grants, shown in Figures 1-5. Thanks to Jim Deatherage for preparing these data again this year.

Figure 1. Competing R01 applications reviewed (open rectangles) and funded (solid bars) in Fiscal Year 2012.
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Figure 1. Competing R01 applications reviewed (open rectangles) and funded (solid bars) in Fiscal Year 2012.

Figure 2. NIGMS competing R01 funding curves for Fiscal Years 2008-2012. For Fiscal Year 2012, the success rate for R01 applications was 25%, and the midpoint of the funding curve was at approximately the 20th percentile.
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Figure 2. NIGMS competing R01 funding curves for Fiscal Years 2008-2012. For Fiscal Year 2012, the success rate for R01 applications was 25%, and the midpoint of the funding curve was at approximately the 20th percentile.

In Fiscal Year 2012, there was a slight improvement in success rate. This is due in part to the relatively flat number of competing applications that we received (Figure 4).

Figure 3. Number of R01 and R37 grants (competing and noncompeting) funded in Fiscal Years 1998-2012.
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Figure 3. Number of R01 and R37 grants (competing and noncompeting) funded in Fiscal Years 1998-2012.

Figure 4. Number of competing R01 applications (including resubmissions) received during Fiscal Years 1998-2012.
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Figure 4. Number of competing R01 applications (including resubmissions) received during Fiscal Years 1998-2012.

Below are the total NIGMS expenditures (including both direct and indirect costs) for R01 and R37 grants for Fiscal Year 1996 through Fiscal Year 2012.

Figure 5. The upper curve shows the overall NIGMS expenditures on R01 and R37 grants (competing and noncompeting, including supplements) in Fiscal Years 1996-2012. The lower curve (right vertical axis) shows the median direct costs of NIGMS R01 grants. Results are in actual dollars with no correction for inflation.
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Figure 5. The upper curve shows the overall NIGMS expenditures on R01 and R37 grants (competing and noncompeting, including supplements) in Fiscal Years 1996-2012. The lower curve (right vertical axis) shows the median direct costs of NIGMS R01 grants. Results are in actual dollars with no correction for inflation.

End of Fiscal Year 2012 Summary

At the 150th meeting of our Advisory Council last week, I presented several budget slides that I’d like to share with you. They summarize funding allocations for this fiscal year, which ends on September 30.

Figure 1 shows the $2.429 billion Fiscal Year 2012 NIGMS budget by major component. The biggest portion is for research project grants (RPGs), most of which are R01s. Due to the transfer of programs—predominantly center grants—from the former National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) partway through the fiscal year, the RPG budget as a percentage of the total is less than the estimate I provided earlier, while the centers percentage is greater. About 74%, or just over $1 billion, of the RPG budget goes to fund noncompeting grant commitments and about 25%, or $349 million, is used to fund competing grants.

Figure 1. Breakdown of the Fiscal Year 2012 NIGMS budget into its major components.

Figure 1. Breakdown of the Fiscal Year 2012 NIGMS budget into its major components. About 58% of the budget supports research project grants (RPGs), and of that, 74% is used to pay noncompeting grants, 25% to pay competing grants and 1% to pay supplements.

Below is a closer look at the competing RPGs. It shows that 94%, or about $330 million, is used to pay investigator-initiated research and that the remaining 6%, or about $19 million, funds mainly R01 grants submitted in response to requests for applications (RFAs). At last week’s meeting, the Advisory Council approved one new RFA and the reissue of several other RFAs for funding consideration in Fiscal Year 2014.

Figure 2. Breakdown of the Fiscal Year 2012 competing RPG budget.

Figure 2. Breakdown of the Fiscal Year 2012 competing RPG budget. About 94% of the budget is used to pay investigator-initiated research and the remainder funds mainly R01 grants submitted in response to requests for applications (RFAs).

Another snapshot (Figure 3) shows a historical view of the RPG budget and number of RPGs compared to the total NIGMS budget. The increase in the total budget in Fiscal Year 2012 is due to the addition of NCRR programs. The decline in the number of RPGs is due to increasing grant costs.

Figure 3. RPG budget and number of grants compared to the total budget for Fiscal Years 1998-2012.

Figure 3. RPG budget and number of grants compared to the total budget for Fiscal Years 1998-2012.

As we estimated earlier in the year, the Fiscal Year 2012 success rate is around 24%.

We will provide information on the Fiscal Year 2013 budget when it’s available.

Continuing Our Commitment to Research Project Grants

Last September, I posted our funding allocation for research project grants (RPGs) in Fiscal Year 2012. I noted our strong commitment to RPGs—the vast majority of which are investigator-initiated R01 grants—and showed that we expected to spend 67% of our budget on them.

I want to update you on our Fiscal Year 2012 budget, which now includes programs transferred from the former National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), and offer some historical perspective on our RPG funding.

Figure 1 shows the amount NIGMS spent on RPGs compared to the total budget from 1998 to the present. From 2003 through 2011, the total RPG budget increased nearly every year, but not at a pace sufficient to maintain the same number of grants. Nevertheless, we expect to fund 184 more RPGs in Fiscal Year 2012 than we did in Fiscal Year 1998.

RPGs as a Proportion of the NIGMS Budget
Fiscal Years 1998-2012

Figure 1. Comparison of research project grant (RPG) budgets in Fiscal Years 1998-2012, compared to the total NIGMS budget.
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Figure 1. Comparison of research project grant (RPG) budgets in Fiscal Years 1998-2012, compared to the total NIGMS budget.

The increase in the total budget for Fiscal Year 2012 reflects the transferred NCRR programs, many of which are centers. During the 1998-2003 budget doubling period, the proportion of centers rose from 0.6% to 8.6% and remained at about 8% through Fiscal Year 2011. These centers enabled NIGMS to address important scientific opportunities and enhance the basic science infrastructure.

Following the transfer of the NCRR programs, 58% of our budget will support RPGs and 20% will support centers, as shown in Figure 2. Despite the percentage shift, the amount of money spent on RPGs is comparable to that in recent fiscal years, and maintaining RPGs and investigator-initiated R01s will remain our focus.

Figure 2. Fiscal Year 2012 breakdown of the NIGMS budget into its major components. About 58% of the budget will support RPGs and about 20% will support centers.

Fiscal Year 2011 R01 Funding Outcomes and Estimates for Fiscal Year 2012

Fiscal Year 2011 ended on September 30, 2011. As in previous years, we have analyzed the funding results (including percentiles and success rates) for R01 grants, shown in Figures 1-5. Thanks to Jim Deatherage for preparing these data.

Figure 1. Competing R01 applications reviewed (open rectangles) and funded (solid bars) in Fiscal Year 2011.
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Figure 1. Competing R01 applications reviewed (open rectangles) and funded (solid bars) in Fiscal Year 2011.

Figure 2. NIGMS competing R01 funding curves for Fiscal Years 2007-2011. For Fiscal Year 2011, the success rate for R01 applications was 24%, and the midpoint of the funding curve was at approximately the 19th percentile.
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Figure 2. NIGMS competing R01 funding curves for Fiscal Years 2007-2011. For Fiscal Year 2011, the success rate for R01 applications was 24%, and the midpoint of the funding curve was at approximately the 19th percentile.

Although the number of competing R01 awards funded by NIGMS in Fiscal Year 2011 was nearly identical to those in the previous 2 years (Figure 3), the success rate declined in 2011. Factors in this decline were a sharp increase in the number of competing applications that we received in 2011 (Figure 4) along with a decrease in total funding for R01s due to an NIH-wide budget reduction. For more discussion, read posts from Sally Rockey of the NIH Office of Extramural Research on NIH-wide success rates and factors influencing them.

Figure 3. Number of R01 and R37 grants (competing and noncompeting) funded in Fiscal Years 1997-2011.
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Figure 3. Number of R01 and R37 grants (competing and noncompeting) funded in Fiscal Years 1997-2011.

Figure 4. Number of competing R01 applications (including revisions) received during Fiscal Years 1998-2012.

Figure 4. Number of competing R01 applications (including revisions) received during Fiscal Years 1998-2012.

Below are the total NIGMS expenditures (including both direct and indirect costs) for R01 and R37 grants for Fiscal Year 1995 through Fiscal Year 2011.

Figure 5. The upper curve shows the overall NIGMS expenditures on R01 and R37 grants (competing and noncompeting, including supplements) in Fiscal Years 1995-2011. The lower curve (right vertical axis) shows the median direct costs of NIGMS R01 grants. Results are in actual dollars with no correction for inflation.

Figure 5. The upper curve shows the overall NIGMS expenditures on R01 and R37 grants (competing and noncompeting, including supplements) in Fiscal Years 1995-2011. The lower curve (right vertical axis) shows the median direct costs of NIGMS R01 grants. Results are in actual dollars with no correction for inflation.

In Fiscal Year 2012, we have received about 3,700 competing R01 grant applications (including revisions) and anticipate funding about 850 of these with the Fiscal Year 2012 appropriation. We expect the R01 success rate to be between 24% and 25%.

Because the competing application numbers and the total R01 budgets for Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012 are similar, the funding trends will likely be comparable.

Webinar on Transformative Research Awards, Managing Science in Fiscally Challenging Times

Extramural NexusI want to highlight two items from the monthly digest of postings from NIH’s Office of Extramural Research.

On November 8 from 1:00 to 2:45 p.m. Eastern time, NIH will host a webinar on a new high-risk, high-reward program, the NIH Director’s Transformative Research Awards. It’ll provide an overview of the program and details about the application process. You can access the webinar at https://webmeeting.nih.gov/hrhr. Submit questions in advance or during the program by e-mailing Transformative_Awards@mail.nih.gov or by calling 1-800-593-9895, passcode 10699.

You may have already read the post from OER Director Sally Rockey on managing science in fiscally challenging times or tried out NIH’s interactive data graphs. The post has generated more than 175 comments, including this one from our former director Jeremy Berg that discusses NIGMS’ approach:

I think it is a very good idea to make these data and the interactive slides available to the scientific community. However, some key points deserve clarification. On slide 2, it is stated that the current way of managing is to “bottom out success rates (doing nothing but letting the system correct itself)”. I do not think that this correctly represents the situation. As Director of NIGMS for 7 1/2 years, we used a number of the degrees of freedom shown in the slides to manage success rates. For example, awards sizes were often reduced below the requested amount to increase the number of new and competing awards that could be made. We realized that these reductions had implications for the funded investigators, but in periods of constrained appropriations, these were deemed to be less problematic than further decreases in the number of awards that could be made. In addition, NIGMS has had a long-standing policy of scrutinizing potential awards to well-funded laboratories, defined as laboratories hav[ing] annual direct costs from all sources of over $750,000. Note that this is not a cap, but rather a process involving program staff and the advisory council to ensure that such potential awards are carefully considered with respect to alternative awards to less well-funded laboratories. Thus, some of the approaches described have already been utilized. Furthermore, we have attempted to analyze scientific output in the context of these policies. Some trends are indicated but there are, of course, many challenges to measuring scientific output in a meaningful way. Furthermore, as one might anticipate, there are large variations at any given level of support. NIH and the scientific community need to work together to use the available data to develop policies that can best sustain the biomedical research enterprise in the long run.

For additional details, see the NIGMS funding policies page.

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%.

Fiscal Year 2011 Funding Policy

As you may be aware, the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011 Exit icon (Public Law 112-10) enacted on April 15 provides Fiscal Year 2011 funds for NIH and NIGMS at a level approximately 1% lower than those for Fiscal Year 2010.

NIH has released a notice outlining its fiscal policy for grant awards. This notice includes reductions in noncompeting awards to allow the funding of additional new and competing awards.

For noncompeting awards:

  • Modular grants will be awarded at a level 1% lower than the current Fiscal Year 2011 committed level.
  • Nonmodular grants will not receive any inflationary increase and will be reduced by an additional 1%.
  • Awards that have already been issued (typically at 90% of the previously committed level) will be adjusted upward to be consistent with the above policies.

For competing awards:

  • Based on the appropriation level, we expect to make approximately 866 new and competing research project grant awards at NIGMS, compared to 891 in Fiscal Year 2010.
  • It is worth noting that we received more new and competing grant applications this fiscal year—3,875 versus 3,312 in Fiscal Year 2010.

The NIGMS Fiscal Year 2011 Financial Management Plan (link no longer available) has additional information, including about funding of new investigators and National Research Service Award stipends.

Fiscal Year 2010 R01 Funding Outcomes and Estimates for Fiscal Year 2011

Fiscal Year 2010 ended on September 30, 2010. We have now analyzed the overall results for R01 grants, shown in Figures 1-3.

Figure 1. Competing R01 applications reviewed (open rectangles) and funded (solid bars) in Fiscal Year 2010.

Figure 1. Competing R01 applications reviewed (open rectangles) and funded (solid bars) in Fiscal Year 2010.

Figure 2. NIGMS competing R01 funding curves for Fiscal Years 2006-2010. The thicker curve (black) corresponds to grants made in Fiscal Year 2010. The success rate for R01 applications was 27%, and the midpoint of the funding curve was at approximately the 21st percentile. These parameters are comparable to those for Fiscal Year 2009, excluding awards made with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Figure 2. NIGMS competing R01 funding curves for Fiscal Years 2006-2010. The thicker curve (black) corresponds to grants made in Fiscal Year 2010. The success rate for R01 applications was 27%, and the midpoint of the funding curve was at approximately the 21st percentile. These parameters are comparable to those for Fiscal Year 2009, excluding awards made with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The total NIGMS expenditures (including both direct and indirect costs) for R01 grants are shown in Figure 3 for Fiscal Year 1996 through Fiscal Year 2010.

Figure 3. Overall NIGMS expenditures on R01 grants (competing and noncompeting, including supplements) in Fiscal Years 1995-2010. The dotted line shows the impact of awards (including supplements) made with Recovery Act funds. Results are in actual dollars with no correction for inflation.

Figure 3. Overall NIGMS expenditures on R01 grants (competing and noncompeting, including supplements) in Fiscal Years 1995-2010. The dotted line shows the impact of awards (including supplements) made with Recovery Act funds. Results are in actual dollars with no correction for inflation.

What do we anticipate for the current fiscal year (Fiscal Year 2011)? At this point, no appropriation bill has passed and we are operating under a continuing resolution through March 4, 2011, that funds NIH at Fiscal Year 2010 levels. Because we do not know the final appropriation level, we are not able at this time to estimate reliably the number of competing grants that we will be able to support. We can, however, estimate the number of research project grant applications in the success rate base (correcting for applications that are reviewed twice in the same fiscal year). We predict that this number will be approximately 3,875, an increase of 17% over Fiscal Year 2010.

UPDATE: The original post accidentally included a histogram from a previous year. The post now includes the correct Fiscal Year 2010 figure.