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Patents and the Relative Citation Ratio: Correlations to Assess NIH Impact

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 14:52

We previously referenced Ioannidis’ and Khoury’s “PQRST” mnemonic for describing research impact: “P” is productivity, “Q” is quality, “R” is reproducibility, “S” is sharing, and “T” is translation.  We wrote several blogs about “P,” productivity, focusing on publications, citations, and more recently the Relative Citation Ratio.  Now we’ll focus on a different kind of “P” for productivity, namely patents (which arguably are also related to “T” for translation).  We’ll also take a brief look at “S” for sharing.

In the April 7, 2017 issue of Science, Danielle Li [now with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)], Pierre Azoulay (MIT), and Bhaven Sampat (Columbia University) published an investigation on the patent productivity of NIH grants. They identified over 365,000 grants NIH funded between 1980 and 2007, and linked them to patents. Two kinds of links were identified: “direct” links in which a patent cited an NIH grant, and “indirect” links, in which a patent cited a paper which in turn acknowledged support from an NIH grant.

The authors found that close to 10% of grants directly generate a patent. That’s remarkable!  But perhaps even more so, nearly 30% of grants generate a paper that is later cited by at least one patent. Even more remarkable, grants directly and indirectly generated patents whether they were “disease-targeted” or not, “patient-oriented” or not, or linked to a Request For Application or not. And, large proportions of grants assigned to different models directly and indirectly generated patents – models including humans, primates, rodents, invertebrates, multicellular eukaryotes, unicellular eukaryotes, prokaryotes, and viruses.

Another noteworthy feature of this paper is that the authors freely shared their data and statistical code. We took advantage of this to ask a question: do NIH-supported papers that are cited by patents have a higher Relative Citation Ratio than those that are not cited by patents? As a refresher, the Relative Citation Ratio uses citation rates to measure the influence of a publication at the article level

We identified 119,674 unique NIH grants that were funded between 1995 and 2007 and that generated at least one publication. Of these grants, 46,002 (38%) generated at least one publication that was later cited by at least one patent. The grants generated 1,241,307 publications that appeared between 1995 and 2015; of these, 103,421 (8%) were cited by at least one patent.

Figure 1 shows a box plot of the Relative Citation Ratio of papers that were or were not cited by at least one patent.  The Y-axis (Relative Citation Ratio) is log-transformed to reflect the log-normal distribution. Papers cited by a patent had a higher Relative Citation Ratio (median 1.75, IQR 0.85-3.62 compared to papers not cited by a patent median 0.97, IQR 0.46-1.91). For convenience, we drew a dotted line through the median value of RCR among the papers cited by a patent. The large dots represent the mean RCR values.

Figure 1

Figure 2 shows the Relative Citation Ratio of papers according to the number of patents citing them.  There is a gradient, with Relative Citation Ratio increasing as papers are cited by zero, one, two, three, or more than three patents (median values of 0.97, 1.46, 1.66, 1.87, and 2.40).  For convenience, a dotted line goes through the median RCR (1.46) for papers citing one patent.

Figure 2

Taken together, the data presented here suggest that the number of publications cited by a patent positively correlates with a higher relative citation ratio. In other words, when patents cite a publication, that article is also likely to be highly influential in its field.

These preliminary findings show one way we are continuing to explore research impact beyond bibliometrics. Though helpful, focusing on bibliometrics alone does not completely capture productivity and impact of our funded research programs. The analysis we present here attempts to build upon prior work by adding yet another instrument to our toolbox.

We recognize that this correlation between patent citation and relative citation ratio may be correlative, not causal. With that noted, both measures do still provide us with a glimpse into the influence of the NIH research portfolio. Our findings are consistent with prior findings showing that the relative citation ratio also correlated with post-publication peer review.

And finally, the “S,” sharing that is…

We are pleased to hear about ways researchers use our data to empirically analyze the productivity of NIH-supported research. We congratulate the authors of the Science article, and commend their willingness to share their data. We progress towards our goal of enhanced transparency and stewardship when researchers share data with each other and when funding agencies share administrative data. Ultimately, sharing information this way is how we, together, improve human health and reduce illness and disability.

Categories: NIH-Funding

Continuing to Clarify the NIH Definition of a Clinical Trial

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 14:47

A few weeks ago we released some case studies and FAQs to help clarify for our research community whether their human subjects research study meets the NIH definition of a clinical trial. These resources prompted a number of follow-on questions and thoughtful suggestions from the community that have helped us refine both the FAQs and the case studies. We are grateful for your thoughtful and constructive comments and suggestions, many of which we have incorporated into our revised documents and communications.

In addition to providing additional rationale for our conclusions in the case studies, we made a number of changes, to include clarifying: what it means to be “prospectively assigned”; what we consider to be a “health-related biomedical and behavioral outcome”; how to classify “ancillary studies”; in what circumstances we would consider a mechanistic study to be a clinical trial; the use of surveys, questionnaires and user preferences; and more.

One of the key clarifications is the distinction between an observational study and an interventional study. There was a lot of very productive discussion around case study 18, which resulted in our breaking the one case study into 6 variations on a theme. The new case studies 18 a-f should help the community understand the nuances of when a measurement is a measurement, and when a measurement tool or task is considered an intervention.

The case studies and FAQs are living documents. We fully expect them to evolve as we work together to think through various scenarios. Unsure whether your human subjects study meets the NIH definition of a clinical trial? Ask the NIH program official (scientific contact) listed in the funding opportunity announcement or on NIH’s website who is responsible for your area of research.

It is important that we get this right. We have an ethical mandate to assure the public that the results of all NIH-funded trials will be made available in a timely manner. We know that under the current state of affairs, over half of all completed NIH-funded trials are not reported out within 2.5 years of completion; the problem is widespread and pervasive. This is an unacceptable state of affairs; it should not be optional to report results. We look forward to continuing to work with you as we move towards higher levels of trust and transparency.

Categories: NIH-Funding

NIH’s Certificates of Confidentiality Policy Enhances Confidentiality of Participants Enrolled in Clinical Research Studies

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 17:59

A few months ago we blogged about our plan to release an updated Certificate of Confidentiality (CoC) policy. Today, we are pleased to announce that we have published the new policy (NOT-OD-17-109), which will go into effect on October 1, 2017. The new policy both enhances the privacy protections of individuals participating in NIH funded research studies and eliminates the need for NIH funded investigators to apply for a CoC.

To help protect the privacy of research participants, NIH has for many years issued CoCs, upon request, to researchers collecting sensitive information about research participants. The CoCs protect researchers and institutions from being compelled to disclose information in response to legal demands that would identify their research subjects.  Section 2012 of the 21st Century Cures Act authorized new provisions governing the authority of HHS to protect the privacy of research subjects.  The new policy implements the new CoC statutory requirements.

Under the new policy, as of October 1, 2017, NIH funded researchers will no longer have to request a CoC, nor will they receive an actual certificate. The CoC will be issued automatically to NIH funded grants, cooperative agreements, contracts and intramural research projects research funded wholly or in part by the NIH that collects or uses identifiable, sensitive information. Compliance with the requirements of the law will become a term and condition of award. All research that was commenced or ongoing on or after December 13, 2016 and is within the scope of this policy is issued a Certificate through this policy.

The CoC protects the privacy of subjects by limiting the disclosure of identifiable, sensitive information. Under the new policy, disclosure is not up to the discretion of the investigator. Disclosure is only permitted in the following circumstances:

  • if required by other Federal, State, or local laws, such as for reporting of communicable diseases
  • if the subject consents; or
  • for the purposes of scientific research that is compliant with human subjects regulations.

The restrictions on disclosures apply to all researchers or research institutions previously issued a CoC who are engaged in research.

A point that is important to understand is that if your research is covered by a CoC, you are required to ensure that any investigator or institution with whom you share a copy of the identifiable sensitive information that is protected by the policy understands that they are they are also subject to the disclosure restrictions, even if they are not funded by NIH.

If you have non-Federal funding,  NIH will continue to consider applications for CoCs for applicable non-federally funded research submitted to our institutes and centers through our existing online CoC application system.

We have noted the changing policy on our CoC website and will be overhauling the page to align with the new policy for the October 1, 2017 policy implementation date.

Categories: NIH-Funding

Have You Seen the Loan Repayment Program Recently? Here’s What You Missed

Tue, 09/05/2017 - 16:43

As I reflect on the research training I received during and after medical school, I recall how lucky I was that I did not have much resulting debt and severe financial constraints that could interfere with my research career. Unfortunately, today’s aspiring physician scientists are often mired in debt. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that two-thirds of medical students graduate with debt, with 80% of those students owing at least $100,000.

How can we alleviate the rising debt accrued during biomedical training for those investigators seeking a foothold in the lab? The NIH loan repayment programs (LRPs), managed inside the Office of Extramural Research, is one approach the NIH is utilizing to stabilize career trajectories for talented investigators. My predecessor, Dr. Sally Rockey, understood and also championed the impact of the LRPs, and I share her enthusiasm.

Congress established the first NIH LRPs nearly a quarter century ago to recruit and retain highly qualified health professionals into biomedical or behavioral research careers. If a researcher is awarded this opportunity and commits to studying diseases and conditions important to the NIH mission, the agency will repay up to $35,000 annually, over a two-year contract, towards their qualified educational debt. Individuals can also reapply for and receive LRP support if they continue conducting qualifying research and making significant strides in their career.

As you can imagine, we are motivated to share the successes and impact of these opportunities. NIH recently assessed career outcomes, as an example, of recipients of LRPs in 2003-2009. Preliminary results suggest that many awardees, for example, apply for and receive more peer-reviewed research grants as well as publish in scholarly journals, when compared to those who did not receive an LRP. These data suggest that individuals are remaining in active research careers and contributing to the advancement of biomedical knowledge and discovery long-term – just as the programs intended.

I’d like to highlight a few other recent updates that will help further promote this program with researchers and supportive stakeholders across the country.

First, to further support increased transparency and reporting of NIH data, we recently launched a new feature to provide access to a wealth of data regarding the NIH LRPs. The LRP dashboard allows users to easily access, visualize, and export trend data about the programs via a bold, new interface.

Figure 1 – LRP Dashboard widget showing the number of LRP applications and awards by degree category for FY 2013-2016. Data can be filtered by year and by LRP or award type within the dashboard by utilizing the pulldown and slide features.

The dashboard provides information regarding program funding (total and by IC), program success rates, the number of annual program applications and awards (by program and degree status, e.g. M.D., Ph.D., M.D./Ph.D., etc., as shown in Figure 1), and an interactive map highlighting the number of awardees by state (Figure 2).

Figure 2 – LRP dashboard widget showing distribution of LRP awardees by state FY 2013-2016. Data can be filtered by year and by LRP or award type within the dashboard by utilizing the pulldown and slide features.

Second, just like when diplomats foster relationships between the United States and other countries, LRP ambassadors serve as a personalized link between the NIH LRPs and investigators in the extramural community. Consisting of a nationwide network of current and former LRP recipients, these talented individuals share their personal experiences, provide advice on the application process, and support the perspective within their local scientific community. We invite you to search the directory to locate a nearby LRP ambassador if you are interested in applying.

Already an awardee and wish to serve your community further as an Ambassador? Feel free to visit the Directory as well for more information on the process and resources. There are currently already over 500 individuals like you across the country energized and committed to extolling the benefits of these invaluable NIH programs.

The LRP online application is open each year from September 1 to November 15. We recommend potential applicants begin by first engaging with LRP program officers within the NIH institutes and centers (ICs) before submitting their application. These individuals can help you understand the potential benefits of these programs to your career, explain eligibility criteria, as well as discuss the research and funding priorities for LRPs at their IC. These staff regularly attend scientific conferences as well to interact directly with the community and address any questions you may have.

We continue to spotlight these important programs facilitating career stability for investigators struggling with high levels of educational debt. Instead, our awardees can spend their time building a stable research career and making important biomedical contributions to improve public health – ultimately benefiting us all in the long run.

Categories: NIH-Funding

NIH’s Next Generation Researchers Policy Now Posted

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 15:23

Today we posted a policy (NIH Guide Notice NOT-OD-17-101) describing current plans for the Next Generation Researchers Initiative.  Since I first blogged about it in June, NIH leadership have reviewed data (see accompanying blog) and deliberated about how best to proceed.  Our goal is to increase the number of NIH-funded early-stage investigators and assure, as best we can, that funded early-stage investigators have a reasonable chance to secure stable funding during the earliest stages of their independent research careers. This new policy will supersede previous notices on new and early stage investigators (NOT-OD-08-121, NOT-OD-09-013 and NOT-OD-09-134).

The Initiative comes against a backdrop of worsening hyper competition that has led to severe challenges for biomedical scientists early in their career. We understand that these researchers worry  about “desperate pursuit of grants,” reduced time for research, dependence on senior scientists, taking on ambitious avenues, and administrative reporting burdens.

The Next Generation Researchers Initiative represents in part implementation of the Section 2021 of the 21st Century Cures Act. The Act states, “The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall … develop, modify, or prioritize policies, as needed … to promote opportunities for new researchers and earlier research independence, such as policies to increase opportunities for new researchers to receive funding, enhance training and mentorship programs for researchers, and enhance workforce diversity.” The Initiative is also consonant with our responsibility to be proper stewards of public funds in alignment with goals set forth in NIH’s Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2016-2020.

As described in the policy, NIH institutes and centers (ICs) will prioritize meritorious applications that request funding for Early Stage Investigators (ESIs) and for Early Established Investigators (EEIs) who are at risk for losing all NIH funding or who have only one active NIH award. Here are some key definitions:

  • Early Stage Investigator (ESI): A Program Director / Principal Investigator (PD/PI) who has completed their terminal research degree or end of post-graduate clinical training, whichever date is later, within the past 10 years. Furthermore, these applicants would not have competed successfully as a PD/PI previously for a substantial NIH independent research award. A list of NIH grants that a PD/PI can hold and still be considered an ESI can be found at
  • Early Established Investigator (EEI): a PD/PI within 10 years of receiving their first substantial, independent competing NIH R01 equivalent research award as an ESI.

As we implement and monitor the Initiative, the NIH Office of the Director and the ICs will, in consultation with a Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the Director, consider evidence-based strategies to identify, grow, and retain ESIs and EEIs. Effective strategies will likely consider factors such as emerging areas of scientific inquiry, needs of the IC portfolios, and projected needs of the scientific workforce.

We have heard many questions about investigators who are new to NIH, but who are at stages in their career that make them ineligible for ESI or EEI status. In keeping with the 21st Century Cures Act’s call for “earlier research independence,” our focus in this Initiative will be to enhance funding opportunities for ESI’s and EEI’s.  We anticipate that individual ICs will seek to fund other more senior investigators who are new to the NIH system through specific programs as well as select pay.

We recommend that you confirm your dates of terminal degree and post-graduate clinical training is correct in eRA Commons. This will help ensure we can apply your eligibility appropriately to receive funding consideration under the policy. On a case by case basis, NIH will consider requests to extend the ESI or EEI period if you experienced a lapse in your research or research training (e.g. medical concerns, disability, family care responsibilities, extended periods of clinical training, natural disasters, or active duty military service).

We invite you to visit the Next Generation Researchers Initiative web page for more information. We appreciate hearing your ongoing feedback as we implement and develop this mission-critical Initiative.

Categories: NIH-Funding

Data On Trends According to Career Stage

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 15:12

By the 21st Century Cures Act, the Next Generation Researchers’ Initiative calls on the NIH to develop policies to increase funding opportunities for new researchers seeking to secure early independence. To put the Initiative in perspective and to extend on previous blogs we’ve posted on changing demographics in NIH-funded researchers, we thought it would be useful to explore trends according to career stage.

First, some definitions.  We define “Early Stage Investigators” (ESI) as those who are within 10 years of completing their terminal degree or post-graduate clinical training and who have not yet secured independence as a PI of a substantial NIH research award.  We define “New Investigators (Not ESI)” as those who have not yet secured independence as a PI of a substantial NIH research award but are more than 10 years from completing their terminal degree or clinical training.  We define “Early Established Investigators” as those who are within 10 years of receiving their first substantial NIH award and who received their first substantial NIH award as an ESI.  Finally, we define “Established Investigators” as all others.

Second, for the most part we will focus on competing R01-equivalent applications and awards – these include R01, R23, R29, R37 and RF1 activity codes.

In 2016, NIH received competing R01-equivalent applications from 24,498 unique applicants: these included 3,729 Early Stage Investigators (15%), 4,813 New Investigators who were not ESIs (20%), 3,461 Early Established Investigators (14%), and 12,495 Established Investigators (51%). Figure 1 shows box plots for age distribution by career stage. Age increases as we move from Early Stage Investigators to Early Established Investigators to New Investigators (Not ESI) to Established Investigators. The age distributions are not particularly skewed, as the means approximate medians in all groups.

Figure 1

Figure 2 shows the number of unique R01-equivalent applicants each year by career stage for each fiscal year since 1995; Figure 3 shows the same data by proportions.  Over time, the proportions of older investigators (New Investigators who were not ESIs and Established Investigators) increased, while the proportions of younger investigators (ESIs and Early Established Investigators) declined. (Note: in 2007, NIH introduced the “New Innovator” DP2 awards, and DP2s were not considered part of the R01-equivalent definition for considering ESI status until 2008. For this reason, there is a notable spike in the number and percent of ESI applicants in 2007, and a proportional decrease in the percentage of established investigators applying for R01-equivalents in 2007.)

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figures 4 and 5 show analogous data for awardees. The proportion of awardees who were Established Investigators climbed, while there was a marked decrease in the proportion of awardees who were Early Established Investigators.

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6 shows funding rates by career stage. The funding rate in any given fiscal year is the ratio of unique awardees to unique applicants. Funding rates increased substantially during the doubling (1998-2003) for all career stages, but less so for Early Stage Investigators. Funding rates for all career stages decreased dramatically after the NIH doubling ended in 2003. There were declines in 2013 – the year of sequestration – which were particularly severe for Early Stage Investigators.

Figure 6

One reason why investigators may leave the NIH grant system is that they are unable to withstand a failed application if they don’t have other active awards to fall back on.  Figure 7 shows the average number of active substantial awards, according to career stage. As expected, Early Stage Investigators and New Investigators who are not ESIs do not have many active awards. Established Investigators have more active awards and this has increased somewhat over time. Thus, Established Investigators may have an easier time staying in the system.

Figure 7

Established Investigators not only make up a greater proportion of awardees (Figure 5), they also secure, to an even greater extent, a larger proportion of competing award dollars (Figure 8).

Figure 8

Finally, Figure 9 shows the percent of all first-time R01-equivalent awardees who go on to receive at least one more second substantial award within 5 years. For those he received their first award in 1996, over 55% went received at least one substantial award. For first-time awardees in 2011 that value fell to only 38% (and this even accounts for ARRA and the multi-PI policy).

Figure 9

In summary, consistent with changes in demographics, we have seen substantial changes in the career stage composition of R01-equivalent applicants and awardees.  As the Next Generation Researchers’ Initiative will focus on increasing funding for Early Stage Investigators and Early Established Investigators, we may see some turning of the curves.

Many thanks to the Statistical Analysis and Reporting Branch of the NIH Office of Extramural Research for their work on this analysis.

Categories: NIH-Funding

Monitoring the Impact of Hurricane Harvey on Research

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 10:09

The devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey cause deep concern about the health and safety of people and animals, and about the health of the biomedical enterprise in the affected areas. While everyone’s immediate efforts need to be focused on getting through this immediate crisis, we want to assure our applicant and grantee community that NIH will be doing our part to help you ensure your research continues. We issued a Guide notice reminding the community about our natural disaster policy, Reminder: NIH Natural Disaster Policy – Hurricane Harvey. To give you an idea of the ways NIH can help in these situations, our website on Extramural Response to Natural Disasters has a list of available resources, including guidance on animal welfare issues.

A recent National Academies study, supported in part by NIH, highlighted the importance of the research community working together to build resilience in the face of natural disasters. These recent events underscore their recommendations to work together to continue this dialog.

Following Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, we issued supplemental funding due to the severity and devastating effect of these storms. For major disasters such as these impacting many institutions, NIH coordinates with other Federal agencies (such as HHS, FEMA and OMB), as well as with state, local, and institutional representatives, to develop any additional response.  We consider issues as whether a Federal Disaster is declared; the severity of damage inflicted; the length of time needed for the institutions to recover; the impact on investigators, human research participants, and animal subjects, and the overall impact on the community. We will be continuing to monitor the situation closely, identifying ways we can help as outlined on this page and we will publish additional information in the NIH Guide.

Our thoughts are with all of you affected by this crisis.

Categories: NIH-Funding

4 Questions For Researchers and Institutions Involved In Human Subjects Research

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 13:01

Last September, and in January of this year, we wrote about a suite of initiatives aimed at improving the quality and transparency of the NIH-supported research that most directly engages human participants – clinical trials. These initiatives include dedicated funding opportunity announcements for clinical trials, Good Clinical Practice training, enhanced registration and results reporting on, and required use of single IRBs for multi-site studies. We are now entering the final phases of implementation of these initiatives – so, if you are contemplating research involving human subjects, please read on.

We’ve received queries from members of the research community seeking clarity on whether their human subjects research will be affected by these new policies, and if so, how. So, we want to call your attention to four questions researchers involved in human s studies need to ask, and answer. These questions are:

  1. Does the study involve human participants?
  2. Are the participants prospectively assigned to an intervention?
  3. Is the study designed to evaluate the effect of the intervention on the participants?
  4. Is the effect that will be evaluated a health-related biomedical or behavioral outcome?

If the answer to all four questions is yes, then we consider your research a clinical trial.

The NIH definition of a clinical trial is “a research study in which one or more human subjects are prospectively assigned to one or more interventions (which may include placebo or other control) to evaluate the effects of those interventions on health-related biomedical or behavioral outcomes”. The definition was published in 2014, after extensive public input, and affirmed, after even more public input, in our policy published in September 2016. The clinical trial definition encompasses a wide variety of study types, as shown in figure 1. These range from mechanistic studies to behavioral studies, to pilot/feasibility studies, all the way to large-scale efficacy and effectiveness trials.

Figure 1

The breadth of the NIH definition is intentional, given the nature of the NIH portfolio and imperatives for maximal transparency. Transparency shows respect for the participants who put their trust in us, in the face of unknown outcomes, to help advance science. Our concerns about transparency stem in part from the issues surrounding the reporting of clinical trials data. For both NIH-funded and non-NIH funded trials, unreported data and untimely dissemination of results has been documented over and over again.  Others have expressed concern that the NIH has not collected needed trans-NIH data to enable it to function as proper stewards of clinical trials.

Some have argued that we should not expect trial registration and reporting for small or exploratory trials, for trials that focus on safety, or for trials that fail to meet enrollment targets. As we stated last September, NIH chose to emphasize the value of transparency for these kinds of trials as well, as “the benefits of transparency and the need to fulfill the ethical obligation to participants is as relevant to these types of trials as to any other type.”  We have an ethical obligation to report results, and this is especially true when volunteers contribute their time as study participants in prospective experiments, whether large or small. And, to be effective stewards of precious and constrained taxpayer monies, we need to collect a minimum of standardized data.

This transparency complements existing efforts to promote data sharing, public access to NIH-funded research results, and scientifically rigorous research design, all of which ultimately benefit the research community directly, as well. By developing and sharing robust data, we maximize the value of NIH’s investment in research by allowing scientists to build upon solid results. The definition, and our clinical trial policies, are an integral part of our efforts to enhance scientific stewardship, dissemination of information, transparency, and to excel as a federal science agency that manages for results.

Why is it important to know whether you are proposing to conduct a clinical trial? Correctly identifying whether your study is a clinical trial is crucial to complying with NIH policies, many of which are now in effect,  such as registering and reporting all NIH supported clinical trials in and good clinical practice training. Very soon, your answer will be crucial to picking the appropriate NIH funding opportunity for your application, writing your research plan correctly (since some information will be captured in the new human subjects and clinical trials form), and ensuring that your application includes all the information required for peer review.

If you are having difficulty answering the four questions that determine whether a study meets the NIH definition of a clinical trial, we encourage you to consult the case studies and FAQs that are available on our webpage on clinical trial requirements for grants and contracts. We’ll be following up with additional blogs and NIH Extramural Nexus articles that provide more depth on the various initiatives. We strongly encourage you to look at these materials, and share them with your colleagues, to ensure that as an awardee conducting clinical trial research, you are aware of the need to register your trial and report its results.

Categories: NIH-Funding

Perspectives on Evidence-based Funding

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 16:17

At the NIH Regional Seminar this past May, I had the pleasure of giving the keynote talk and presenting different perspectives on how NIH can further the impact of our research funding. Some of the topics I presented in this talk will be familiar to frequent Open Mike blog readers – our concerns about the hypercompetitive nature of applying for NIH support, for example. Others we haven’t discussed in depth here yet – such as how we might measure the contributions of NIH-supported research to treating diseases. My staff recorded this talk and has made it available to you on the NIH Grants YouTube channel. If you’re interested in the topics covered here on the blog (which I hope you are, since you are reading this now!) then you may be interested in this talk.


Categories: NIH-Funding

NIH’s Next Generation Researchers Initiative

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 12:22

At the Advisory Committee to the Director meeting last week, NIH Principal Deputy Director Dr. Larry Tabak presented a new NIH initiative to strengthen the biomedical workforce. This presentation followed extensive discussions with stakeholders both here through this blog, at stakeholder meetings, and at NIH advisory council meetings over the last month. We heard unequivocal endorsements for supporting early-career and mid-career researchers given the hypercompetitive funding environment — a challenge we have addressed many times in our blog posts. However, many voiced concerns about our taking a formulaic approach to capping grant funding and called on us to be more direct in enabling greater support for the next generation of biomedical researchers.

For this reason, we have shifted our approach to a focused initiative to support early- and mid-career investigators. As described in a June 8 NIH Director’s statement, and in recognition of the call for such action in the 21st Century Cures Act, we are naming this effort the Next Generation Researchers Initiative. We will take a multi-pronged approach to increase the number of NIH-funded early-stage and mid-career investigators and stabilize the career trajectory of scientists. We describe these approaches on a new web page that we will continue to update. Our activities address both research workforce stability, and evaluation of our investments in research. In brief, NIH will:

  • commit substantial funds from NIH’s base budget, beginning this year with about $210 million, and ramping to approximately $1.1 billion per year after five years (pending availability of funds) to support additional meritorious early-stage investigators and mid-career investigators
  • create a central inventory and track the impact of NIH institute and center funding decisions for early- and mid-career investigators with fundable scores to ensure this new strategy is effectively implemented in all areas of research
  • place greater emphasis on current NIH funding mechanisms aimed at early- and mid-career investigators
  • aim to fund most early-career investigators with R01 equivalent applications that score in the top 25th percentile
  • encourage multiple approaches to develop and test metrics that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of our research portfolio, and assess the impact of NIH grant support on scientific progress, to ensure the best return on investment

Applicants do not need to do anything special to be eligible for this funding consideration. Beginning this fiscal year, the NIH institute or center (IC) who would fund the grant will give your application special consideration for support if you are:

  • an early-stage investigator (within 10 years of completing your terminal research degree or medical residency and have not previously received a substantial independent NIH research award) and receive a score in the top 25th percentile (or an impact score of 35 if the application is not percentiled)
  • a mid-career investigator (within 10 years of receiving your first NIH R01 equivalent award) who scores in the 25th percentile, and either:
    • are at risk of losing all support, or,
    • are a particularly promising investigator currently supported by a single ongoing award (i.e, NIH will prioritize funding an additional concurrent research project grant award)

NIH ICs make funding decisions to support their mission, and this plan provides flexibility in how ICs will meet the NIH-wide goal of supporting highly scoring early-stage and mid-career researchers. Each IC will make its decisions about how it will prioritize funding to support this initiative.

As further details are announced, we will be updating the Next Generation Researchers Initiative web page with this information. In the meantime, we encourage you to read the NIH Director’s statement, and look at the Advisory Committee to the Director presentation and webcast recording.

We appreciate your feedback in addressing the very important issue of stabilizing the biomedical research workforce. Your comments to this blog (or via email, if preferred) are welcome. With the continued input from individuals at every career stage, as well as research institutions and other stakeholders, we can work together to make changes that ensure the long-term stability and strength of the U.S. biomedical research enterprise, and that advance science to improve health for all.

Categories: NIH-Funding

Getting to Know Federal Funders and their Research Interests

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 15:29

Working with NIH applicants and awardees as an extramural program division director, I often shared the NIH RePORTER resource as a tool for exploring the research topics NIH supports.  Learning what projects we support, using a robust database of historical and newly-funded projects (updated weekly), provides researchers valuable insight as they consider developing their own research programs and applications for funding.

Another valuable tool which you might be familiar with is Federal RePORTER, which expands the RePORTER concept to support searching over 800,000 projects across 17 Federal research agencies, with trans-agency data updated annually. As Federal RePORTER recently received an update to introduce some new functions and additional agency data we’d like to highlight some of the ways it helps both the public and scientific researchers alike understand the government’s research portfolio and trace its impact through published articles and patents.

Figure 1

Search or browse data across agencies: Federal RePORTER is designed for ease-of-use. The homepage offers quick search tools for the most commonly used fields, or you can skip the search and use the interactive bar charts and maps on the home page to quickly drill down to projects funded by a certain agency or projects occurring in a particular state. We’ve also added easy-to-follow walkthroughs as “Guided Tour” links on the home page, advanced search page, and results page to learn more. From your search results, you can refine results through links on the sidebar, or read more about individual projects (including a description, and details on the investigator, research organization, and funder.)

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

Explore search results even further:  As with NIH RePORTER, you can export the results for further exploration and analysis, or use the built -in “Charts”, “Map”, or “Topics” tools from the sidebar to learn more about the projects, as in the examples shown below. For example, you can summarize the projects by agency, state, or fiscal year (Figure 2), or map where the research is taking place (Figure 3). You can also explore groups of scientific topics within your search results (for example, a search for “lead” and “drinking water” returns groups of projects covering “ground water”, “ early life”, “arsenic exposure”, and more.) From there, you can drill down into subgroups, to generate lists of projects in that group (Figure 4).

Identify research outcomes: Federal RePORTER aims to link Federal funding to the outcomes of research including publications and patents. Using agency-supplied information, the public can trace the impact of the funding by seeing what academic publications and patents cited the project funding.

With growing resources for identifying agency-supported publications, future plans include expanded coverage of these two important measures of research impact.

These are just a few of the excellent Federal RePORTER features that can help you find collaborators, get to know the research interests of federal science-funding agencies, understand your institution’s sources of support, and prepare your applications and research plan equipped with additional knowledge. We are grateful to all of the federal agencies and offices that provide data and support to Federal RePORTER and make this resource possible.  These new functions, additional agency data, and modernized user interface make it easier for you – and all stakeholders in the U.S. scientific enterprise – to learn about the Federal science and engineering portfolio.

Categories: NIH-Funding

Following Up on Your Feedback on How to Strengthen the Biomedical Research Workforce

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 13:07

We appreciate the many thoughtful comments posted to the blog about working together to improve NIH funding support for early- and mid-career investigators to stabilize the biomedical workforce and research enterprise using a measure called the Grant Support Index (GSI). Some clear themes have emerged, including:

  • Possible unintentional adverse consequences
  • Possible deleterious effects on collaborative research
  • If/how institutional training grants should factor into the GSI
  • Other ways to support a larger number of scientists
  • Other approaches to measure PI effort
  • Discussion of the GSI values (point scale)
  • Having us look internally at NIH’s intramural program

Based on community feedback from the blog, council meetings, and other discussions with stakeholders, we have made changes to the planned policy to include additional measures beyond GSI to strengthen NIH funding support for early-and mid-career investigators. We will also provide greater flexibility in the use of GSI as a measure for guiding NIH funding decisions, and will make other changes to be sure that this approach does not discourage collaboration and training. These updates will be presented at the June meeting of the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director. We encourage you to tune in via NIH videocast to the presentation on Thursday, June 8.

To provide us with additional feedback, please post comments to this blog or send an email to

Categories: NIH-Funding