April 2011

Stretching NIH resources

Recently, on Sally Rockey’s Extramural Nexus blog, Daniel J. Noonan of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine commented on how to address current challenges in NIH funding.

 

All of us must be prepared to make sacrifices to help National Institutes of Health dollars go farther, and we need to consider all options to decide how best to proceed. Recently, on Sally Rockey’s Extramural Nexus blog, Daniel J. Noonan of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine commented on how to address current challenges in NIH funding. Some of his suggestions are excerpted here to encourage discussion.

Priority 1: Implementation of measures for increasing available dollars for funding investigator-initiated research awards.

1) Delay initiatives like the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences; be wary of large projects for drug development and screening.
2) Limit NIH-funded independent research awards to three grants and $1,000,000 a year per investigator. Factor in composite funding when deciding the merit of funding a grant application, especially in cases where the PI is an established investigator with huge non-NIH funding sources.
3) Use a diminishing formula for indirect costs on multiple grants (e.g., 100 percent for the first grant, 50 percent for the second, and 25 percent for the third).
4) Reduce maximum salary dollars available to 50 percent.
5) Limit, if not eliminate, the NIH-funded subsidization of research building projects.
6) End initiatives that either compete with or subsidize pharmaceutical company drug discovery efforts.
7) Trim waste and excess in NIH intramural funding.

Priority 2: Implementation of measures for increasing funding directed toward smaller research operations, especially those of unfunded established investigators.

1) Create vehicles that emphasize funding of smaller research operations. Although it is presumed that the initiatives in Priority 1 above will free money for R01 and R21 funding, it becomes irrelevant if you don’t get the money into the hands of those needing it. Create a category of unfunded established investigators and fund this category in the 25 to 30 percent range.
2) Increase the funding of medically related basic research projects. These often are the focus of smaller laboratory operations; are the essential foundation of applied research; have led to most, if not all, of the major scientific breakthroughs for the past century; will lead to most, if not all, of the major scientific breakthroughs in this century; are an essential aspect of maintaining a leading international role in scientific discovery; and, perhaps most importantly, fund many of the projects that inspire and develop our next generation of medical researchers.

Priority 3: Implementation of measures for increasing the quality of reviews and reducing luck as the driving force of grant funding.

1) Require, as a stipulation of NIH funding, that funded investigators must serve on study sections for a minimum of one year for every three years of funding with no exceptions. This will assure that there are plenty of qualified reviewers and perhaps even moderate aspirations for a limitless number of NIH awards.
2) Do away with the two-strikes-and-you’re-out rule and go back to the three-submission scenario.
3) Review, discuss and give priority scores to all grant submissions.
4) Allow and even encourage reviewers to provide constructive feedback in their reviews once again.


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