Moving Further Afield

In recent talks for iBiology Exit icon  and TEDx Exit icon, NIGMS grantee Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado proposes that because so much of biomedical research focuses on only a handful of model organisms we are limiting our knowledge of biology. He suggests that many important discoveries lie waiting in species that have not yet been the subjects of sufficient investigation. This is a topic of interest to us as well; in fact, Dorit Zuk, director of our Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology, is currently leading an internal working group that’s examining the varied landscape of organisms studied by NIGMS grantees and the new scientific questions that could be answered using a diversity of organisms. We’ll be discussing these topics in future posts.

In addition to the number of organisms we study, other aspects of the biomedical research system may be limiting the breadth of our knowledge. For example, does the expectation that junior faculty work on a problem closely related to their postdoctoral research constrain our explorations to “islands” of study, leaving vast areas under- or unexplored?

The forces keeping biomedical junior faculty within their postdoctoral research areas include the expectations of faculty search committees, grant review panels and funding agencies, as well as the promotion policies of academic institutions. Interestingly, in the chemical sciences, junior faculty are usually expected to develop projects that are distinct from their postdoctoral work, which often involves moving into completely new areas of study. Why the sociology of chemistry evolved so differently in this regard from other fields related to biomedical research is an interesting question.

Should the biomedical research enterprise change its expectations to empower junior researchers to move further away from their postdoctoral work when they start their independent research careers? Would this accelerate the pace of discovery? New programs such as the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Awards (MIRA) for Early Stage Investigators give us an opportunity to revise our expectations for researchers at the beginning of their independent careers. Would this be desirable? What might we look for in assessing outcomes? If we, as funders, successfully made such a change in expectations, would the rest of the research ecosystem make parallel changes to support efforts by junior scientists to leave their home “islands” and move into new territory?

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on these questions.

MIRA for Early Stage Investigators: FOA and Webinar

UPDATE: The September 27 webinar slides and video, and answers to frequently asked questions have been posted.

We have released the latest funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) pilot program. This FOA, while similar to last year’s announcement, is intended only for early stage investigators. This eligibility change and other modifications were made to further test the MIRA mechanism under carefully controlled conditions. MIRA supports investigators’ overall program of research within the NIGMS mission through a single, unified grant rather than individual project grants. Applications are due by November 4, 2016. The earliest start date is July 2017.

We’ll hold a webinar to discuss this FOA (link no longer available) and answer questions about the program on Tuesday, September 27, from 3-4 p.m. EDT. Participants will be able to submit questions using the chat feature. We plan to post the archived webinar and slides on the MIRA webpage after the event.

We receive many questions about eligibility. NIH defines an early stage investigator as one who is within 10 years of completing his/her terminal research degree (e.g., Ph.D.) or is within 10 years of completing medical residency (or the equivalent). The investigator must also have not yet received a substantial independent NIH research award (e.g., R01, DP1 or DP2, SC1). Extension of the period of ESI eligibility can be requested for certain specified reasons.

NIGMS plans to issue additional FOAs for MIRA later this year with broadened eligibility for awards to be issued in Fiscal Year 2018.

For additional information, check the MIRA webpage, email me or call me at 301-594-0828.

Please help us get the word out by sharing this information with your colleagues and anyone else who might be interested in applying.

First MIRA Awards to New and Early Stage Investigators

UPDATE: The MIRA FOA for early stage investigators has been reissued.

We have begun making grant awards resulting from responses to RFA-GM-16-003 (R35), the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) for New and Early Stage Investigators pilot program. We received 320 applications in areas related to NIGMS’ mission, and they were reviewed by four special emphasis panels organized by the NIH Center for Scientific Review. We anticipate making 93 awards, which is more than we estimated in the funding opportunity announcement (FOA); the corresponding success rate is 29.1%.

The awards will be for a 5-year project period, as is typically the case for NIGMS R01 awards to new and early stage investigators. Most awards will be for the requested and maximum amount of $250,000 in annual direct costs, with an average of $239,000 and median of $250,000. In Fiscal Year 2015, NIGMS R01 awards to new or early stage investigators averaged $209,000 in annual direct costs (median of $198,000) and had a 24.4% success rate. During the same period, all competing NIGMS R01 awards averaged $236,000 in annual direct costs (median of $210,000) and had a 28.8% success rate. Thus, the MIRA pilot program had success rates similar to those of comparable R01 applications and offered some direct financial benefit to this group of applicants. We expect other benefits of the MIRA program, including increased funding stability and research flexibility, reductions in time spent writing and reviewing grant applications and improved distribution of NIGMS funding, will accrue among these investigators and the community at large as implementation of the MIRA program continues.

You can find more information about the awards on NIH RePORTER by entering RFA-GM-16-003 in the FOA field; however, the record of funded grants will not be complete until after the end of Fiscal Year 2016 (September 30). Because the initial budget period of MIRA awards will be offset by existing NIGMS grant support from other mechanisms (e.g., career awards), the first-year budget of a MIRA may be lower than the annual funding level used to calculate the average and median amounts shown above. We plan to post a detailed analysis of MIRAs after we have issued all the awards. We’ve previously posted information on NIGMS R01 award sizes and success rates for new and early stage investigators.

As I mentioned in my last post, we’re planning to reissue the MIRA FOA for early stage investigators in the near future.

You can find additional information about the program on our MIRA web page.

Early Notice: MIRA Funding Opportunity for Early Stage Investigators

UPDATE: The MIRA FOA for early stage investigators has been reissued.

Many people have contacted me wondering whether NIGMS is going to reissue the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) for New and Early Stage Investigators (R35). We are planning to further test the MIRA concept for early career investigators and expect to publish a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) this summer. Applications would be due in the fall.

As announced in the notice of intent to publish this FOA, the program will be similar to last year—except that it will be open only to NIH-defined early stage investigators (ESIs). Investigators can request an extension of their ESI status for certain specified reasons. The new announcement will include some other changes, so please be sure to read the entire FOA when it comes out.

Once the forthcoming FOA is published in the NIH Guide, we will provide more details here and will update the MIRA webpage. In the meantime, we encourage ESIs with expertise and insights in any area of science within the NIGMS mission to consider applying.

Know others who might be interested in this FOA? Please share this early notice with them.

First Awards Issued in MIRA Pilot Program

We have begun making grant awards resulting from responses to RFA-GM-16-002 (R35), the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) pilot program. Out of the 179 applications we received, we have so far authorized 123 awards. The median yearly direct costs for these grants is $399,842, and the mean is $405,884. For comparison, the median yearly direct costs for an NIGMS R01 in Fiscal Year 2015 was $210,000, and the mean was $237,254.  On average, the budgets of these MIRAs to established investigators were reduced by 12% relative to the investigators’ recent NIGMS funding history. As described in the funding opportunity announcement (FOA), the budget reductions were in exchange for the benefits of the program: a 5-year award instead of the standard 4-year one, increased flexibility to follow new research directions, increased funding stability and decreased administrative burden. We will use the funds freed up through this trade-off to support other investigators and improve the distribution of NIGMS funding. It will take time for the full benefits of the program to individual investigators and the research community to become clear.

You can find more information about these awards on NIH RePORTER by entering RFA-GM-16-002 in the FOA field; however, the record of funded grants will not be complete until the end of Fiscal Year 2016. Because merging an investigator’s previous funding into a single award presents a variety of complications, in some cases the first-year budget of the MIRA is lower than the eventual funding level will be. This is frequently the case when the principal investigator (PI) was part of multi-PI grants that will be allowed to end before all NIGMS funding for the investigator is put on the MIRA or when the PI had already received funds from NIGMS in the current fiscal year.

We will begin making awards for the new and early stage investigators MIRA (RFA-GM-16-003) after the May 19-20 meeting of the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council.

You can find additional information about the program on our MIRA web page.

MIRA Program Continues with New FOA

UPDATE: The March 21 webinar slides and video, the eligibility flowchart and answers to frequently asked questions have been posted.

We just issued a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the second year of our Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program. This FOA continues pilot testing of the MIRA concept with a small cohort of investigators. For this reason, the current FOA is for established investigators, although we’re working on plans to expand the program to allow all NIGMS-funded investigators to apply. Applications are due by May 20, 2016. The earliest start date is April 2017.

We have made a number of modifications to the FOA based on what we learned in the first round. In particular, we have clarified the text in a number of places to avoid confusion by applicants and their institutions. We have also broadened the MIRA eligibility window to include later R01 renewal dates to enable more investigators to apply and for more of them to have the possibility of submitting renewal applications for their R01s if their MIRA application is unsuccessful or if they choose to decline an award. Therefore, please read the new FOA carefully if you are considering applying for this opportunity.

We’ll hold a webinar on Monday, March 21, from 12:30-1:30 p.m. EDT to discuss this FOA, the status of the first group of awards and our future plans for the program. You’ll be able to access the webinar at https://face2face.nih.gov/anthony.eam/JGQLDQ9J and submit questions via the chat function.

Continue reading

MIRA Status and Future Plans

Now that we have completed the review process for Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) applications from the first eligible cohort of established investigators, I would like to update you on the program’s status and plans for its future. I shared this information with our Advisory Council at its recent meeting in January.

Screenshot of video

My update on the MIRA program at the January 2016 Advisory Council meeting begins at 26:06.

The first funding opportunity announcement (FOA) we issued (RFA-GM-16-002) was for established investigators who had either two NIGMS R01s or one NIGMS R01 for more than $400,000 in direct costs. In either case, one grant had to be expiring in 2016 or 2017. Out of the 710 investigators who could have met these criteria, 179 submitted applications, corresponding to 25% of the eligible pool.

Among the eligible investigators, 80% were male and 20% were female. This ratio was unchanged among those who applied, as were the percentages across racial and ethnic groups (Figure 1). Thus, although the demographics of the group of investigators that was eligible for this first FOA were skewed in several ways, the skewing was not exacerbated in those who chose to apply. Continue reading

Lab Size: Is Bigger Better?

In a new video on iBiology, NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch discusses the relationship of lab size and funding levels to productivity, diversity and scientific impact.

In a new video on iBiology, NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch discusses the relationship of lab size and funding levels to productivity, diversity and scientific impact.

The talk covers information detailed in previous Feedback Loop posts:

Read the Molecular Biology of the Cell paper mentioned at the end of the video for more discussion of lab size and other topics related to maximizing the return on taxpayers’ investments in fundamental biomedical research Exit icon.

Clarifying the Due Date for MIRA Applications from New and Early Stage Investigators

The September 9 receipt date for the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) for New and Early Stage Investigators (R35) is just one week away! We recommend that applicants submit a few days early to give themselves time to check that their applications as received by NIH are complete and correct.

A few points of clarification about the deadline:

  • If you’re planning to submit an AIDS or AIDS-related application for the later receipt date of November 19, 2015, please contact me immediately to discuss whether the MIRA grant mechanism is appropriate. It may not be when only part of the research is AIDS-related.
  • The expiration date for the funding opportunity announcement is listed as November 20, 2015. This is not the receipt date. Do not be misled by this or any reference to a closing date on forms downloaded from Grants.gov.

MIRA Webinar, Other Resources for New and Early Stage Investigators

UPDATE: Due to technical difficulties, the MIRA webinar was not recorded. We have posted the slides on the MIRA Web page, where we’ll also post a summary of the webinar questions and answers.

NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch and I will field questions about the recently announced Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) for New and Early Stage Investigators (R35) during a webinar on Tuesday, June 30, from 1-2 p.m. EDT. Participants will be able to submit questions using the chat feature. We’ll post the archived webinar and slides on the MIRA Web page.

The most common questions we’re getting about the new MIRA funding opportunity announcement (FOA) have concerned eligibility, so we created a new flowchart to help determine this. Another common question has related to research areas appropriate for support by a MIRA. These and other topics are covered in our answers to frequently asked questions about the second MIRA FOA.

If you have colleagues who may be eligible to apply but may not know about the FOA or may have questions about it, please share this post with them.

As with the first MIRA FOA, this competition is an experiment and is intentionally limited to a small group of eligible applicants. If the pilot is successful, we plan to issue future FOAs covering additional groups of investigators.

For more information about the MIRA program, e-mail me or call me at 301-594-0828.