Planning to Apply for an NIGMS Established Investigator MIRA? Points to Consider

When NIGMS issued PAR-17-094, Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (R35), in December 2016, we opened the established investigator MIRA mechanism to all NIGMS grantees whose single-PI R01-equivalent grants were set to terminate in the same or subsequent fiscal year as the MIRA application. The purpose of this post is to remind you of important points to keep in mind if you are eligible to apply for a MIRA. Before applying, we strongly encourage you to contact your program director, who can advise you on whether MIRA is the best funding program for you and can help estimate a project budget if your application does well in peer review.

Some key points to know if you are considering applying for a MIRA grant:

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Application and Funding Trends in Fiscal Year 2017

NIGMS is committed to ensuring that taxpayers get the best possible returns on their investments in fundamental biomedical research [PDF 702KB]. As part of this commitment to stewardship [PDF 7.89MB], we regularly monitor trends in our funding portfolio.

We recognize the value of a diversified investment portfolio and approach our research investments in a similar fashion. Sustaining a broad and diverse portfolio of talented investigators is a central goal of the Institute, as a wide variety of research questions can be studied by an investigator pool that comprises many different backgrounds, fields, and skills. To monitor this, we track the “cumulative investigator rate,” which indicates the proportion of unique investigators actively seeking funding who had an NIGMS grant in a given Fiscal Year (FY). As shown in Figure 1, the number of investigators seeking support consistently increased between FY 2006 and 2014, but the number of NIGMS-funded investigators remained relatively unchanged over that same period. As a result, the cumulative investigator rate steadily decreased. Since FY 2014, the cumulative investigator rate has steadily increased, as the number of applicants seeking support has stabilized and the number of investigators receiving support has grown by 14%. Currently, 37.4% of investigators seeking R01/R35 funding from NIGMS received support in FY 2017.

Figure 1. Number of NIGMS R01/R35 Applicants, Awardees, and Cumulative Investigator Rates, FY 2006-2017. The number of investigators actively seeking NIGMS R01 and R35 support (blue circles, dashed line; left axis) increased steadily from FY 2006 to 2014 but has stabilized more recently. These applicants were defined as anyone who submitted a competing NIGMS R01 or R35 application in the fiscal year shown or any of the previous four fiscal years. The NIGMS R01 and R35 awardee counts (green squares, solid line; left axis) remained relatively stable from FY 2006 to 2014 and have increased somewhat over the past three years. As a result, the NIGMS cumulative investigator rate (gray triangles, dotted line; right axis) declined from FY 2006 to 2014 but has begun to recover since then.

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Attention NI/ESI MIRA Recipients: This Webinar Is for You.

UPDATE: The video and slides from the NI/ESI MIRA webinar have been posted.

If you are a new investigator (NI) or an early stage investigator (ESI) who received a Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) in 2016 or 2017, you may be wondering how having a MIRA affects your ability to initiate collaborations or apply for other grants. Or, you may be curious how much flexibility you really have to deviate from your original research plans. You may also be thinking a few years ahead about a competing renewal application. Because MIRA is a new grant mechanism, NIGMS will host a webinar designed specifically to address these and other topics of interest to NI/ESI MIRA principal investigators (PIs). NIGMS program, grants management and review staff will be on hand to provide information and answer your questions. We invite NI/ESI MIRA PIs and their business officials to participate.

The webinar (link no longer available) will be held on Tuesday, September 26, from 2:00 to 3:45 p.m. EDT. The site is compatible with mobile devices. Participants will be able to submit questions through the chat function. For an audio-only presentation, call 1-866-815-0443 and enter passcode 3268089. We will post the archived webinar and slides on the MIRA webpage after the event.

NIGMS Staff Participating in the September 26 Webinar

Vernon Anderson, Program Director

Oleg Barski, Program Director

Lisa Dunbar, Scientific Review Officer

Judith Greenberg, Deputy Director

Lisa Moeller, Grants Management Officer

Peter Preusch, Acting Director, Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics

Kristine Willis, Program Director

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.

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

A Historical Analysis of NIGMS Early Stage Investigators’ Awards and Funding

One question that has been asked about the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) for Early Stage Investigators is how awardees will be affected by the fact that they cannot have additional NIGMS research grants. In response to this question, we reviewed the research project grant (RPG) funding history of all 707 Principal Investigators (PIs) who received an NIGMS R01 as an Early Stage Investigator (ESI) between Fiscal Years 2009 and 2015. The PIs were grouped by Year of PI, which ranges from Year 1 to Year 5 (five years is the typical length of an ESI R01 award). Year 1 is the year in which the PI was awarded his or her initial R01, and Year 2-Year 5 represent the subsequent years. The awards and funding history of each PI were confined to Fiscal Years 2009-2015; thus, all PIs are included in the Year 1 group, while those who received their initial R01 in 2013, for example, would only appear in the Year 1-Year 3 groups.

The distribution of NIGMS awards (including subprojects) for these PIs is depicted below.

Figure 1. Percentage of Principal Investigators by Number of Active NIGMS Awards. Year 1 represents the year of the initial NIGMS R01; Year 2-Year 5 represent the subsequent years. Only Fiscal Years 2009-2015 are included. No PIs had more than three active NIGMS awards in a single year.

Adding up the percentages of PIs with two and three awards, Figure 1 shows that the percentage of PIs with more than one active NIGMS award ranges from 2.8% in Year 1 to 13.9% in Year 5. Continue reading

Stable Success Rates and Other Funding Trends in Fiscal Year 2016

NIGMS is committed to ensuring that taxpayers get the best possible returns on their investments in fundamental biomedical research. As part of an NIH-wide commitment to enhancing stewardship, we regularly monitor trends in the Institute’s funding portfolio.

One of the most commonly cited metrics when discussing grants is success rate, calculated as the number of applications funded divided by the number of applications reviewed. As shown in Figure 1, the success rate for NIGMS research project grants (RPGs) was 29.6% in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the same as it was in FY 2015. Although we funded a record number of competing RPGs in FY 2016, we also received more applications than in FY 2015, leading to a level success rate. The first applications and grants for the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) (R35) program are included in the FY 2016 RPG counts. The increase in RPG applications in FY 2016 has reversed the downward trend noted in last year’s analysis.

Figure 1. Number of NIGMS Competing RPG Applications, Number of Funded Competing RPGs and Success Rates for RPGs, Fiscal Years 2005-2016. NIGMS RPG applications (blue circles, dashed line; left axis) increased from FY 2015-2016. NIGMS-funded RPGs (green squares, solid line; left axis) also increased from FY 2015-2016. Consequently, the NIGMS RPG success rate (gray triangles, dotted line; right axis) remained unchanged from FY 2015. The dip in success rate in FY 2013 was due in part to the budget sequester.

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MIRA Program Expands Eligibility with New FOA

UPDATE: The January 31 webinar has been posted.

A new funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program will expand eligibility to include all grantees who have at least one NIGMS R01-equivalent award (R01, R37, DP2 or SC1) due for renewal in the current or next fiscal year. Investigators with two or more NIGMS grants are eligible if at least one of their grants is up for renewal during this time period. The deadline for the first round of applications is May 17, 2017, with the earliest award date of May 2018. There will be two receipt dates in 2018 and 2019: January 17 and May 17.

The advantages of a MIRA for NIGMS grantees are that awards are for five years, provide support for an investigator’s overall program of research within the NIGMS mission, and offer greater funding stability and research flexibility while reducing the administrative burden.

In transitioning from a pilot to an ongoing grant mechanism, we have made some minor changes to the MIRA program. For example, the NIH Center for Scientific Review will review MIRA applications from established investigators. For more details, please read the FOA and the frequently asked questions. We also have posted a simple process to determine 2017 eligibility. I strongly encourage those who intend to apply to discuss their plans with their NIGMS program director.

We’ll hold a webinar to discuss the FOA (link no longer available) and answer questions about the program on Tuesday, January 31, from 2-3 p.m. EST. We plan to post the archived webinar and slides on the MIRA webpage after the event.

For additional information, please email me, or call me at 301-594-3827—and watch the Feedback Loop for updates, including an anticipated MIRA FOA for early stage investigators.

More Information About New and Early Stage Investigator MIRA Outcomes

There has been ongoing discussion—both here and in the general scientific community—related to the first MIRA awards to New and Early Stage Investigators (NI/ESI). One question that arose was why applications were administratively withdrawn. Both the NIH Center for Scientific Review and multiple NIGMS staff members, including the program director with a portfolio of grants closest to the applicant’s area of science, screened the applications. Of the withdrawn applications, a majority (~80%) were returned prior to review because they proposed research that fell outside of the NIGMS mission. Others were withdrawn because the applicant was not eligible for the FOA. After review, some applications were withdrawn because the PI accepted another award that was mutually exclusive with the MIRA. As recommended on the MIRA website and elsewhere, we encourage anyone who intends to apply for the Early Stage Investigator MIRA to discuss their plans with the appropriate NIGMS program director to determine whether the proposed research area is within the mission of the Institute and if the applicant is eligible to apply.

A major NIGMS goal is to support a broad portfolio that is diverse in research topics, approaches, institutions and investigators. This means we are looking carefully at the outcomes of awards, including gender and race/ethnicity data. We are also trying to take proactive steps to prevent bias during the review, for instance by covering the topic as part of reviewer orientations that take place several weeks before the MIRA study sections meet.

In our recent summary of MIRA applicant and awardee demographics, we looked to see how applications from underrepresented groups compared to those from well-represented groups (White and Asian). The p-value for a difference between the distributions of funded and unfunded applications from these groups was 0.63, meaning that there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups. We also compared the MIRA success rates to those of ESI applicants for NIGMS R01s in fiscal years (FY) 2011-2015 (Table 1).

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Trending Young in New and Early Stage Investigator MIRA

Dr. Jon Lorsch

The MIRA presentation at the September 2016 Advisory Council meeting begins at 17:13.

Following up on the previous post regarding the first MIRA awards to New and Early Stage Investigators, we issued awards to a total of 94 grantees. In addition to ensuring that we are funding the highest quality science across areas associated with NIGMS’ mission, a major goal is to support a broad and diverse portfolio of research topics and investigators. One step in this effort is to make sure that existing skews in the system are not exacerbated during the MIRA selection process. To assess this, we compared the gender, race/ethnicity and age of those MIRA applicants who received an award with those of the applicants who did not receive an award, as well as with New and Early Stage Investigators who received competitive R01 awards in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015.

We did not observe any significant differences in the gender or race/ethnicity distributions of the MIRA grantees as compared to the MIRA applicants who did not receive an award. Both groups were roughly 25% female and included ≤10% of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. These proportions were also not significantly different from those of the new and early stage R01 grantees. Thus although the MIRA selection process did not yet enhance these aspects of the diversity of the awardee pool relative to the other groups of grantees, it also did not exacerbate the existing skewed distribution.

We did observe significant differences among the mean ages of the MIRA grantees, MIRA applicants who did not receive an award and the R01-funded grantees. The MIRA grantees are 1.5 years younger on average than those MIRA applicants who did not receive an award (37.2 vs. 38.7 years, p<0.05), and about 2 years younger than the FY 2015 R01-funded Early Stage Investigators (37.2 vs. 39.1 years, p<0.001). The R01-funded New Investigators in FY 2015, a pool which includes a few individuals older than 60 years, average an age of 45.6 years. This selection for funding investigators earlier is a promising feature of the first round of MIRA awards to New and Early Stage Investigators. As noted at the recent meeting of our Advisory Council, where Jon presented these data, 37 years is still relatively late for investigators to be getting their first major NIH grant. We will continue to monitor this issue with the goal of further decreasing that figure.