Recently, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a major change in their policy that will have repercussions across the biomedical research community. Moving away from the traditional model, NIH will introduce a point system to put a cap on the amount of funding a researcher can receive. The agency explains that the main intent is to make more grants available and assist early and mid-career researchers in getting grants easily.
Getting grants is vital for researchers irrespective of their career stage, but the extreme competition makes it tough for researchers with less experience to get funding. According to NIH, a mere 10% of the applicants win about 40% of the funds released by the agency. Moreover, the average age of the recipients is 42. Thus, to make funding opportunities equal to all applicants and to increase the number of funds released, the agency plans to introduce a new metric called the Grant Support Index (GSI). Each grant type will be assigned a point value based on its size and complexity. A researcher can gain a maximum of 21 points, which equals to three R01 grants (the most common type of grant awarded by NIH). In case a researcher’s grants cross the maximum points, he or she will be asked to adjust the grants so that the points do not exceed the stipulated limit.
Francis Collins, NIH director, believes that the shift in the policy would make up to 1600 new grants available whereas a mere 6% of researchers (who currently exceed the suggested limit) are likely to be affected by the change. Another noteworthy aspect is that the new policy does not have a rigid limit on the funding amount because some research topics require more funding than others. Many researchers think this is a step in the right direction. Howard Garrison, deputy executive director for policy at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland, says, “Looking at ways to fund more investigators is a healthy approach.”
However, as is the case with any policy change, some are critical of the move. Sally Rockey, a former director of the NIH Office of Extramural Research, says, “NIH would not be able to enforce the 20% limit because researchers could have funding from other sources.” Other researchers are worried that the policy change will affect the collaboration trends as researchers might focus on getting a bigger share of grants while keeping their GSI within limit. Further clarity is awaited on how many grants researchers can apply for at a time, which could change the way researchers plan their next applications. NIH plans to roll out the policy later this year in consultation with the industry members and NIH’s advisory councils.