July 7, 2008
IC Directors
Kerry Brink, Assistant to the Deputy Director, NIH
IC Directors’ Meeting Highlights – May 22, 2008


I. Update on the Peer Review Implementation Plan, Dr. Lawrence Tabak, Director, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)

Dr. Tabak updated IC Directors on the Peer Review Implementation Plan and explained that the Plan’s core themes include: Excellence of Reviewers; Fairness and Clarity; Support Scientists at Different Career Stages; and Continuous Quality Control and Improvement. Specific objectives and goals of each theme consist of the following:

The Excellence of Reviewers Core Theme addresses NIH’s ability to recruit, retain and motivate the most accomplished, broad minded and creative scientists to serve on Study Section. Goals include: reduce burden on reviewers; recruit additional distinguished reviewers to serve on Study Section; recognize and reward distinguished NIH review service; and enhance SRO, Study Section Chair and Reviewer training.

The Fairness and Clarity Core Theme stipulates that peer review must consistently identify an application’s relative merit, potential for scientific and/or public health impact, and feasibility. Goals include: providing applicants and NIH program officers clear and purposeful review feedback; using informative summary statements and a rating system comparable across study sections and fields of science; shortening application page length; and modifying the application structure aligning it with a new rating system and summary statement format to emphasize five specific review criteria (impact, investigator(s), innovation/originality, project plan/feasibility and environment).

The Support Scientists at Different Career Stages Core Theme addresses the fair evaluation of proposals from all scientists, regardless of their career stage or discipline, and avoids bias towards more conservative and proven approaches at the expense of innovation and originality. Goals include: reducing bias in the review of early stage investigators including the number of fully discussed proposals; evaluating applications from established investigators with greater emphasis on a retrospective than a prospective view; expanding the MERIT/Javits award program and Transformative Pathway of up to 1% of R01s; and rebalancing success rates among A0, A1 and A2 submissions.

The Continuous Quality Control and Improvement Core Theme stipulates the need to establish a continuous quality control and improvement process for peer review based on rigorous and independent prospective evaluations that favor rather than discourage adaptive and innovative approaches to review and program management. Goals include: formation of a working group to study the best way to institutionalize this continuous quality control and improvement of peer review; and identifying and implementing evaluation strategies to continually assess the effectiveness and scientific quality of the review system.

Dr. Zerhouni commended NIH program staff in their care, responsiveness and analytical expertise in assessing technical elements of the Implementation Plan. He observed it was the best analytical effort he has seen. IC Directors expressed concern for the decline in A0 success rates and agreed that a rebalance effort would better monitor and help reduce administrative burden. IC Directors discussed that the intent of enhancing the peer review system is to mange the process, not the science, and to optimally diminish constraints and burden clearing the path for the best science and new discovery.

Kerry Brink
Cc: OD Small Staff

This page was last reviewed on July 7, 2008 .
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