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March 5, 2008

News Articles

Opportunities and Resources

Advice Corner

New Funding Opportunities

News Articles
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Working Together on Peer Review

Fund the best science, by the best scientists, with the least administrative burden -- that was the mission of two NIH working groups now reporting their findings and presenting recommendations for change. The need to act is clear: in 2008, the Center for Scientific Review estimates that it will receive 80,000 applications, a dramatic increase that is taking place during an era of flat budgets.

In light of this situation, NIH requires a stronger peer review system that is efficient and effective for investigators and reviewers alike. As fields of science change, NIH needs processes that recruit the most qualified peer reviewers to identify the best possible research.

To start its quest for designing a better peer review process, NIH gathered comments and suggestions from the research community, working groups, and its own staff. In February 2008, the external working group presented its recommendations to the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) and NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni.

Below we list the challenges and some of the working group's key recommendations. NIH is taking the recommendations under advisement and is expected to launch pilot experiments this spring. You can also look at Enhancing Peer Review at NIH slides presented at the ACD meeting.

Challenge: Reduce the Administrative Burden of Applicants, Reviewers, and NIH Staff

In the face of burgeoning application numbers, the working group discussed ways to reduce the number and size of applications. The group recommended shortening the page count of the application's Research Plan, which is now 25 pages for an R01, by 30 to 50 percent, but failed to reach a consensus on a number.

Another possible solution is to clarify a competitive range by establishing a "not recommended for resubmission" review outcome to help applicants decide whether to refine an existing application or develop a new one.

Challenge: Enhance the Rating System

As one possible way to improve the rating system, the working group suggested restructuring applications to focus more on the work's impact and innovation and less on methods. The group also suggested alternative scoring paradigms, including the possibility of a rank ordering by standing review panel members.

Challenge: Enhance Review and Reviewer Quality

The group suggested piloting the use of electronic "prebuttals" to allow applicants to address factual errors in review.

To encourage more senior-level scientists to become reviewers, one idea the group recommends is creating modest incentives for reviewers, such as providing more flexible submission deadlines for all reviewers and allowing more flexible service options.

Challenge: Optimize Support at Different Career Stages and Types

It's troubling that new investigators have low R01 success rates. Recommendations include funding more R01s for early career stage investigators and possibly reviewing these applications separately from those of more experienced investigators.

Challenge: Optimize Support for Different Types and Approaches of Science

When reviewed by an institute, clinical research applications have better success rates than do similar applications reviewed in CSR. To ensure an optimal review of clinical research applications, NIH should examine why results between CSR and institute panels differ.

The group also suggested that a small amount of funds and unique review process be used for "transformative" research proposals that might represent radical departures from existing paradigms.

Challenge: Reduce the Stress on the Support System of Science

Flat budgets mean finite resources, and no changes in peer review can address this shortfall. One suggestion to make the best use of resources is to require a minimum percent effort on research project grants in the hope that one or two grants can sustain and fully occupy most researchers.

Other ideas expressed about faculty positions and "soft money" situations in academia go far beyond what peer review changes might be expected to address.

Next Steps

Next Dr. Zerhouni and the Internal Working Group will decide which new approaches to directly implement and which to launch pilots for.

NIH is accepting comments on the NIH 2007-2008 Peer Review Self-Study Final Draft until March 17, 2008. For more information, go to Enhancing Peer Review at NIH.

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Sharing and Accessing Data for Genome-Wide Association Studies

Whether you're proposing a genome-wide association study (GWAS) or planning to access the data repository, make sure you read NIH's new policy that went into effect on January 25.

To help you meet policy requirements, NIH issued guidance and instructions in the November 16, 2007, Guide notice. Here are a few items of note:

  • State in your cover letter that you are proposing to conduct GWAS research or plan to access GWAS data from NIH's repository, Database of Genotype and Phenotype (dbGaP).
  • Include a plan for submitting GWAS data to dbGaP. If submitting data will not be possible, explain why. Put this information in your application's Research Plan.
  • If you'll be seeking data from dbGaP, you'll need to meet data security measures. You must also submit a data access request, which includes a Data Use Certification that you and your institutional business official must sign.   

For more background on GWAS data sharing, see our September 19, 2007, article. Find additional information and resources, including frequently asked questions and a data sharing plan, at NIH's GWAS Web site.

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Only NIH Awards Affect New PI Status

NIH recently revised the definition of a new principal investigator (PI) again. Now, only NIH awards affect new investigator status for future grants, not awards from other PHS agencies. See NIAID's explanation at Are You "New"?

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Summit on HIV Vaccine Research and Development

Are you interested in HIV vaccine research? Check out NIAID’s Summit on HIV Vaccine Research and Development on Tuesday, March 25, 2008, in Bethesda, MD. You must register to attend.

This event has limited seating, but you can watch the Web cast instead. For details, go to Summit on HIV Vaccine Research and Development.

We also wrote about the Summit in our February 20, 2008, article "Join NIAID’s Summit on HIV Vaccine Research and Development."

Opportunities and Resources
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International Extramural Associates Research Development Award

Did you miss the February 22 deadline for the International Extramural Associates Research Development Award (IEARDA) program? You will have another chance to apply this summer.

The IEARDA program provides research administrators from institutions in India and sub-Saharan Africa with the skills to enrich and expand their administrative infrastructure to implement a more rigorous biomedical and behavioral research program.

To help award recipients strengthen their institutional processes, they receive hands-on training in NIH policies and procedures for three weeks in Washington, DC, as well as continued training through distance-learning, meetings, and mentoring from NIH staff.

The next due date for your letter of intent is June 29, 2008, and the application is due July 29, 2008. For more information, see the August 10, 2007, and November 23, 2007, Guide notices.

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Coming Soon From the Gates Foundation: Grand Challenges Explorations

Keep your eyes open for Grand Challenges Explorations grant opportunities. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the $100 million initiative supports early-stage research projects pursuing creative concepts for new global health solutions, including vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and other technologies that help fight health problems disproportionately affecting poor countries.

Many projects will initially be funded at $100,000 each, with additional $1 million of funding in the future for projects that show promise.

Calls for proposals will occur multiple times a year; March 31 is the opening acceptance date for the first round of topics:

Visit Grand Challenges in Global Health, and Sign Up for Explorations Information to receive email updates with information about the grant opportunities.

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Give These New Research Tools a Try

In case you haven't heard, the NIH Library's Web of Science® moved to the ISI Web of Knowledge platform, but all the popular tools are still there. You can use the tool to search for articles or collaborators, conduct a cited reference search to see who is citing papers in your area of research, or set up alerts to track publications.

Looking for collaborators? Check out BiomedExperts, a literature-based social networking platform. This online community connects biomedical researchers by analyzing the networks of coauthors with whom each investigator publishes scientific papers.

Do you use National Library of Medicine's PubMed? Next time try GoPubMed, a knowledge-based search engine for life sciences based on PubMed. By using Gene Ontology and MeSH terms, it helps you find relevant information faster.

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Support for Radiological Threat Products

Are you working on a radiation emergency product? NIAID's Medical Countermeasures Against Radiological Threats: Product Development Support Services contract accelerates product development research conducted by academic, industrial, and federal laboratories. The University of Maryland School of Medicine holds the contract and can help you bring the product to the acquisition stage.

Services include the following:

  • Development of new animal models to provide mechanistic, safety, and efficacy data to support FDA approval of new products for human use
  • Activity screening and early development of medical countermeasure candidate drugs for post-exposure mitigation and treatment regimens
  • GLP pivotal animal efficacy and toxicity and safety pharmacology studies in rodents and non-rodents
  • Preclinical pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic studies
  • Development of new product formulations and limited cGMP manufacture
  • Phase I clinical safety and pharmacokinetic studies
  • Regulatory support services

To see if your work is eligible, contact the DAIT Office of Product Development. For more information, see Medical Countermeasures Against Radiological and Nuclear Threats.

Advice Corner
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Report Any Financial Conflicts of Interest

Remember that principal investigators must report any financial conflicts of interest to NIH before spending funds under a new grant or contract award.

If a conflict arises during an award, report it within 60 days of identifying it. Grantees should contact NIAID's chief grants management officer Mary Kirker, and contractors should inform NIAID's chief contracting officer Charles Grewe. Include the following in your report:

  • Award number
  • Principal investigator
  • Name of investigator with the financial conflict of interest
  • Whether the conflict has been managed, reduced, or eliminated

Also, your institution should have a written process to identify and manage the financial conflicts of interest for NIH-supported investigators and must comply with reporting requirements. For more information, read the December 6, 2004, Guide notice.

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

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