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June 18, 2008

News Articles

Opportunities and Resources

Advice Corner

New Funding Opportunities

News Articles
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Peer Review Proposals – Poised to Go

Over a year in the works, the overhaul of NIH peer review is coming to fruition. Working groups have done their job, the research community has weighed in, and an implementation plan is in place.

At the June 6, 2008, meeting of the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director, NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., announced his commitment to the proposed implementation plan, which will be carried out over the next 18 months.

The committee, whose working groups oversaw the effort, and the public got a glimpse of what’s ahead from Dr. Larry Tabak, director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and co-chair of the internal Steering Committee Working Group.

This month, NIH will launch some pilots and try some changes, such as shortening the length of R01 and some other applications, developing a new scoring system, and giving applicants more useful feedback.

Other innovative ideas will be tested later, including the use of editorial board models for interdisciplinary research.

Here are some highlights of the implementation plan. You can see the Report on Enhancing Peer Review at NIH Implementation Plan slides and watch the committee proceedings at NIH Videocasting Past Events.

New Scoring Paradigm

A new scoring scale is in the works: 1 to 7 will replace the existing 41 point range of 1.0 to 5.0. Psychometrics show that reliability levels off at about 7 points, a scale the committee feels gives reviewers enough flexibility.

Also, reviewers will score each review criterion separately (as they feel is appropriate, also the current method), in addition to giving a global score.

Perhaps even more important, reviewers will emphasize substance and impact and de-emphasize methods. Reviews should become shorter as they more specifically address the five review criteria:

  • Impact
  • Investigator
  • Innovation/originality
  • Project plan/feasibility
  • Environment

Streamlined applications, though not discussed at the review meeting, will get summary statements that include an average score for each of the five criterion.

At end of the meeting, reviewers will rank order all applications and possibly readjust scores. NIH will pilot different ways of implementing that new approach.

Shorter Applications

Expect shorter applications: 12 pages for R01s (other mechanisms to be correspondingly shorter) with an optional appendix up to eight pages, which is mostly for complex awards such as clinical or epidemiologic applications.

Reviewer Incentives

To attract the best-qualified scientists, NIH will look into giving incentives such as making review service more flexible -- for example, spreading the required 12 sessions over four to six years and sharing review duty with other scientists.

Other options would give reviewers a one-year cost extension for one R01 and create a distinguished reviewer service award. On the other hand, NIH may institute an expectation of service for accomplished investigators.

Supporting Different Career Stages

A major goal is reducing bias against new investigators, whose applications often get less attention from reviewers and end up unscored.

For more established investigators, reviewers will place equal emphasis on research proposed and research accomplished.

NIH expects to create a new investigator-initiated Transformative R01 Award under the NIH Roadmap and may expand Pioneer, EUREKA, and New Innovator awards.

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NIAID Makes New Appointments for DAIDS

In our February 22, 2008, article "New DAIDS Director Is No Stranger," we told you about the appointment of new DAIDS Director Carl Dieffenbach, Ph.D. Here are some other people moving into senior-level positions.

Manizhe Payton takes over the Office of Clinical Site Oversight as director. Before this appointment, she worked for the Immune Tolerance Network as executive director of trial management and operations, where she oversaw facilities management, tolerance assay study planning, and quality control.

Dr. Roberta Black now heads the Microbicide Research Branch in the Prevention Sciences Program, where she coordinates research activities and supervises funding for microbicide research. She has worked for DAIDS since 1989, most recently as team leader for topical microbicide research since 2004.

Also, Dr. David Burns is the new chief of the Prevention Sciences Program's Prevention Research Branch, where he oversees its effort to find new HIV prevention and intervention strategies. He came to the program in 2005 as medical officer, after six years of managing USAID's ZdravPlus program.

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Training Grants Get New Data Table Formats

NIAID no longer uses its own tables for Institutional Research Training Grant (T32) applications. We now use the tables in the PHS 398, which are similar to our old ones and are standard for all ICs.

New applications must use the new tables, but if you're submitting a revised application for the September 25, 2008, submission date, use the table format from your previous application.

Look at Sample Data Tables and read the PHS 398 Introduction to Data Tables to learn more. Remember, check your funding opportunity announcement for instructions on completing your data tables and which tables to include.

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Training and Career Awards Are Moving to Electronic Application

More grants are making the transition to electronic application in 2009 -- and this time it's training and career awards.

Career development awards (K) will become electronic on February 12, fellowships (F) on April 8, and training grants (T) on September 25. See the 2008 - 2009 Electronic Submission Timeline.

Plans to move cooperative agreement U01 and U19 and program project (P) applications are on hold.

NIH also plans to phase in Adobe submission forms. Read more in our May 21, 2008, article "NIH Moves to Adobe Submission Forms."

Opportunities and Resources
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The K99/R00: So Many Applications, Why So Few Awards?

Since the announcement of the NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) in FY 2006, NIAID has awarded only a handful of applications for the K99 phase. Many inquiring minds want to know: why is this?

Successful Program Already in Place

From the start, NIAID committed to funding only six K99/R00s a year (we awarded seven K99s in fiscal years 2007 and 2008 because additional funds were available).

Why commit to so few? Because of the success of our NIAID Research Scholar Award (K22), which is almost ten years old. Like the K99, the K22 helps postdocs make the transition to independent researcher.

In a recent evaluation of NIH K22 programs from FY 1999 to FY 2006, NIAID's was the most successful with 54 percent of our awardees receiving one or more R01s after the K22.

Given that success, we were reluctant to eliminate the program or reduce the number of awards for the sake of K99/R00s. At the same time, we wanted to support the K99/R00 since it is an NIH-wide program.

Consider Both Options

Though we award few K99s, we do fund approximately 20 to 25 "transition" (K22 and K99) grants each year.

If you're a U.S. citizen or permanent U.S. resident, we suggest you consider applying for the K22 rather than the K99/R00. To check your chances of success, see Success Rates for Career Development Awards by Activity and Institute or Center.

Should you need help in deciding between the two, read our May 16, 2006, article, "Torn Between Two K Awards?"

As we state there, NIAID gives preference to applicants requesting three years of support -- one year for the K99 and two for the R00 -- instead of the five years that NIH allows. You may want to keep this in mind.

Seek Advice

If you have questions about the K22 or K99/R00, contact Milton Hernández, director of NIAID's Office of Special Populations and Research Training, at 301-496-3775 or

For more information on K99/R00 awards, see the Pathway to Independence Awards (K99/R00) SOP. You can find more resources on Career Development Awards (K) .

Advice Corner
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Reader Questions

Jessica Soderlind, The Geneva Foundation, asks:

"Can we use the old PHS 398 forms to resubmit a paper application for an RFA?"

No. All paper applications must use the new instructions and forms. Read the January 4, 2008, Guide notice for details.

Also, because you're responding to an RFA, be sure to submit as a new application, i.e., with no introduction or reference to a previous application.

Fernando Rouaux, M.E.S., York University, asks:

"Should foreign principal investigators use salary caps?"

Yes. NIH bases the salary cap on the federal executive pay scale. Each year NIH issues a Guide notice with the cap, or you can find it under PI Salary Cap and Stipends on Paylines and Budget.

New Funding Opportunities
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See these and older announcements on our NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

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