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.

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.

Early Notice: New NIGMS Institutional Predoctoral Training Grant Funding Opportunity Announcement

UPDATE: The new predoctoral T32 funding opportunity announcement specifically tailored for predoctoral graduate programs in the basic biomedical sciences is now available.

Dr. Alison Gammie presents on The New NIGMS Institutional Predoctoral Training Grant Funding Opportunity Announcement

The NIGMS T32 presentation at the January 2017 Advisory Council meeting begins at 1:43:07.

At the recent NIGMS Advisory Council meeting, the Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity requested, and received, approval to write a new predoctoral T32 funding opportunity announcement (FOA), specifically tailored for predoctoral graduate programs in the basic sciences and designed to help catalyze the modernization of biomedical graduate education. The goal is to enable the community to develop and implement innovative approaches to education and mentoring that will more effectively and efficiently train future generations of outstanding biomedical researchers, and will allow graduate education to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the biomedical research enterprise. Taking into account the feedback we have received from various stakeholders over the past year, the new FOA will:

  • Emphasize the development of a diverse pool of exceptionally well-trained scientists;
  • Focus on skills development, rigor and reproducibility, inclusive and supportive training environments, and responsible conduct;
  • Address conflicts in the incentive structure of the research enterprise that adversely impact biomedical graduate education;
  • Encourage the use and dissemination of evidence-based, innovative educational and mentoring practices;
  • Emphasize improvements in career preparation (broadly defined), and dissemination of career outcomes on publicly available sites.

The intention is not to layer additional activities onto existing structures. Instead, this funding announcement is designed to allow for a creative reinvention of biomedical graduate education that preserves the best elements, while enhancing the focus on the development of research and professional skills by trainees.

We expect to issue the new T32 FOA this fall and to receive the first applications in May 2018. The new FOA will apply to all NIGMS predoctoral T32 training grants, except for the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), which will remain on the parent T32 announcement for now. We plan in the future to develop a parallel FOA that is specific for the goals of the MSTP.

We encourage the community to watch the presentation at our Council meeting and view the slide deck. As always, we welcome your input and feedback on these plans. You can post your comments below.

Early Notice: New Program to Support Collaborative, Team-Based Science

UPDATE: We thank the community for its initial feedback as we continue to develop plans for this program, which will support research within the NIGMS mission (including a limited number of clinical areas). The program will offer comparable levels of support as the program project (P01) mechanism, but its structure will be quite different. In addition to the capacity building and AIDS-Related Structural Biology program centers, we will continue to support the Biomedical Technology Research Resource centers (P41), Mature Synchrotron Resources (P30), and select coordinating or resource centers in areas of high strategic need.

Dr. Susan Gregurick presents on The Collaborative Grant Program

The Collaborative Grant Program presentation at the January 2017 Advisory Council meeting begins at 2:14:10.

At its January 2017 meeting, our Advisory Council endorsed a concept for a new program to support collaborative, team-based science. This initiative is the result of evaluations of our previous programs, recent research on the science of team science Exit icon, and community input.

Many research questions in biomedical science can be pursued by single investigators and their close collaborators through single- or multi-principal investigator R01 grants. However, complex research questions may require the coordinated efforts of several research laboratories and closer collaborations among researchers with diverse areas of expertise. NIGMS recognizes the importance and benefits of supporting collaborative research teams when these are necessary to achieve important scientific breakthroughs or new understanding of phenomena.

NIGMS’ new Collaborative Program Grant is designed to support highly integrated, multidisciplinary research teams of three to six investigators who will address complex research questions, train and mentor new scientists, and impact scientific problems that would benefit from coordinated research support. The key application requirements are a single, integrated research program without subprojects and a multiple-principal investigator management plan. We expect to issue a funding opportunity announcement by the summer and, beginning in 2018, we will make four to six awards per year with annual direct costs ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million. We plan to phase out our use of the P01 and most of our other center mechanisms. We will continue to support capacity building centers, such as those of the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, and to support the AIDS-Related Structural Biology program centers.

We encourage the community to watch the presentation at our council meeting, and we welcome your input and feedback on these plans. You can email your comments or post them here.

Final FOA for NIGMS Program Project Grants

We have reissued a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for program project grants (P01) in areas related to NIGMS’ mission. The program remains unchanged from the previous FOA. The next application deadline is January 25, 2017. The program project grant is designed to support research in which the funding of several interdependent projects offers significant scientific advantages over the support of these same projects as individual regular research grants.

We’re exploring alternative approaches to fund team science projects. We recently requested community input on this topic. The responses we received included a recommendation to support interdisciplinary, challenging science beyond multiple-PI R01s that would allow greater flexibility than what is possible with the existing P01 program. We’ll keep you posted on our plans.

Give Input on Needs and Opportunities in Team-Based Science

We’ve been examining the benefits and challenges of team science and considering approaches to support this mode of research.

We use a variety of mechanisms to fund collaborative and team-based science, including program project grants (P01s) and different types of center grants (e.g., P50s and U54s). At our recent Advisory Council meeting, we heard a report on P01 outcomes compared to those of other mechanisms. We also heard a report from an external review panel on the National Centers for Systems Biology program.

To explore team science approaches, we have set up an internal NIGMS committee that includes representatives from across the Institute. Our goal is to develop better ways to identify and support research teams that will produce scientific advances not attainable by single individuals or by standard collaborative efforts.

One of the committee’s first efforts was issuing a request for information (RFI) on approaches for supporting team science in the biomedical research community. We’re soliciting input on a number of topics, including:

  • Interest in team science.
  • Management and advisory structures in team science.
  • Team composition.
  • Resources and infrastructure.
  • Assessment of team science.
  • Past or current NIGMS team-based programs and funding mechanisms.

RFI responses should be sent to TeamScience@mail.nih.gov by June 17, 2016. We also welcome comments here.

P01 Outcomes Analysis

As part of our program assessment process, we have analyzed NIGMS program project (P01) grants to improve our understanding of how their outcomes compare with those of other mechanisms.

The most recent NIGMS funding opportunity announcement for P01s states that individual projects “must be clearly interrelated and synergistic so that the research ideas, efforts, and outcomes of the program as a whole will offer a distinct advantage over pursuing the individual projects separately.” From this perspective, we sought to address three major questions:

  • Do P01s achieve synergies above and beyond a collection of separate grants?
  • How do the results from P01s compare with those from R01s?
  • Do certain fields of science need P01s more than others?

To address these questions, we analyzed the outcomes of P01 grants using several different metrics and compared these outcomes to those of two comparator groups: single-principal investigator (PI) R01s and multiple-PI R01s. Since P01s could be considered as a collection of single-PI R01s and one or more cores, we chose single-PI R01s as a comparator group. Because a major facet of P01s is their focus on using collaborative approaches to science, we also wanted to compare their outcomes to another collaboration-focused research grant: multiple-PI R01s. While structurally different from P01s, multiple-PI R01s allow for a comparison between two competing models of funding team science within the NIGMS portfolio.

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