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NIH Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Award (R21)


The NIH has standardized the Exploratory/Developmental Grant (R21) application characteristics, requirements, preparation, and review procedures in order to accommodate investigator-initiated (unsolicited) applications. This website describes the use of the investigator-initiated R21 and describes the NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) that intend to accept such applications.

The R21 is intended to encourage exploratory/developmental research projects by providing support for the early and conceptual stages of development. Investigators wishing to apply for an R21 grant should be aware that not all ICs accept investigator-initiated R21 applications. Investigators are strongly encouraged to consult the list of participating ICs shown below. Consultation with the NIH staff contacts is also encouraged. All investigator-initiated exploratory/developmental grant applications described in this announcement will be assigned to ICs according to standard PHS referral guidelines and specific program interests. Applications that are assigned to non-participating ICs may be returned to the applicant. Applicants should also be aware that non-participating ICs might solicit R21 applications using Requests for Applications (RFAs) or Program Announcements (PAs) to meet specific program needs. Information about such initiatives can be obtained in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/index.html and by consulting with NIH staff. In some cases those announcements may specify different application characteristics, review criteria, and receipt dates. The PA for investigator-initiated R21 applications can be found at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PA-06-181.html and articulates the policies and procedures that apply to this grant mechanism.

Electronic Submission

Electronic Submission – NIH will require electronic submission of the SF424 (R&R) form through Grants.gov to NIH for all R21 grant applications for the June 1, 2006 application deadline and beyond.

  • Registration – The NIH electronic submission process requires institutional registration in two separate systems: Grants.gov and eRA Commons . Project Directors/Principal Investigators also must be registered in eRA Commons. These registration processes can take up to four weeks (possibly longer for new organizations) to complete. All registrations must be in place prior to application submission. For additional information on preparing for electronic submission to NIH please visit: http://era.nih.gov/ElectronicReceipt/preparing.htm .

  • Training resources – video library, archived training sessions and other training resources to learn about the NIH electronic submission process and the new SF424 (R&R) application

  • FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions

  • Tips & Tools - resources to avoid common application submission errors

The R21 mechanism is intended to encourage new, exploratory and developmental research projects by providing support for the early stages of their development. For example, such projects could assess the feasibility of a novel area of investigation or a new experimental system that has the potential to enhance health-related research. These studies may involve considerable risk but may lead to a breakthrough in a particular area, or to the development of novel techniques, agents, methodologies, models or applications that could have major impact on a field of biomedical, behavioral, or clinical research.

Applications for R21 awards should describe projects distinct from those supported through the traditional R01 mechanism. For example, long-term projects, or projects designed to increase knowledge in a well-established area will not be considered for R21 awards. Applications submitted under this mechanism should be exploratory and novel. These studies should break new ground or extend previous discoveries toward new directions or applications. Projects of limited cost or scope that use widely accepted approaches and methods are better suited for the R03 small grant mechanism (see R03 announcement citation).

Please note that, according to the NIH Guide Notice, Reminder: Program Announcement Needed to Identify R03 and R21 Applications, investigators submitting R21 applications must include an appropriate Program Announcement number and title on line 2 of the SF424 (R&R) application.

Application Characteristics
  • You may request a project period of up to two years
  • The combined budget for direct costs for the two year project period may not exceed $275,000. For example, you may request $100,000 in the first year and $175,000 in the second year to meet the needs of your project. Normally, no more than $200,000 may be requested in any single year.
  • All budgets should be in modular format.
  • Exploratory/developmental grant support is for new projects only; competing renewal applications will not be accepted.
  • Two resubmissions of a previously reviewed exploratory/developmental grant application may be submitted as defined in NIH Policy at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/amendedapps.htm.
  • Introduction (required for a resubmission application) is limited to one page.
  • Items 2-5 of the Research Plan (Specific Aims, Background and Significance, Preliminary Studies, and Research Design and Methods) may not exceed a total of 15 pages.
  • No preliminary data is required but may be included if available.
  • A Progress Report is not needed.
  • Use the instructions for the appendix detailed in the SF424 (R&R) except that no more than 5 manuscripts, previously accepted for publication, may be included.
R21 Participating/Non-Participating Institutes and Centers
  • NIH Institutes and Centers that DO NOT ACCEPT R21 applications in response to the Parent R21 Announcement but ONLY accept R21 applications in response to their specific funding opportunity announcements: FIC, NCCAM, NCI, NCMHD, NCRR and NIGMS.