NCI Research Grant Payline Higher Than Anticipated
The R01 payline for fiscal year (FY) 2007 will be higher than expected, NCI Director Dr. John Niederhuber has announced.
Speaking to NCI's Board of Scientific Advisors (BSA) on June 28, Dr. Niederhuber explained that the end-of-year payline for R01 grants would be the 15th percentile. At the beginning of the year, the payline estimate was the 12th percentile, the same level at which NCI finished in 2006.
The payline for the R01 program for first-time investigators will be the 21st percentile, Dr. Niederhuber reported, which also is higher than what was anticipated at the beginning of the fiscal year.
The payline represents the cutoff above which an application will be funded, as determined by its scientific review and priority scores. The payline is established based on the number of expected applications and the available funds designated for competing grants, meaning that it can change throughout the year as NCI can more accurately assess the number of incoming applications and available resources.
"In reality, we'll be funding quite above the 15th percentile after exceptions," Dr. Niederhuber said. "I don't think any of us a year ago felt we had a chance of reaching this [level]."
R01 competing grants funded as "exceptions" are those with a priority ranking that put them beyond the final payline, but were judged to be deserving of support after all other grants that met the payline were funded. Those grants are paid from a pool of competing grant funds that are set aside at the beginning of the fiscal year to fund exceptions. For 2007, that pool represented approximately 20 percent of the competing grant budget.
Dr. Niederhuber praised NCI's senior leadership team for their efforts to review programs across the institute's divisions and centers, setting the stage for the higher payline. That process, he continued, involved regular meetings of senior leaders to review programs and make decisions about "what we could slow down, what we could phase out, and really prioritize our best science, our best investigators."
Overall, NCI's current research project grant portfolio, excluding small business grants, includes well over 5,000 awarded grants. NCI received nearly 6,600 competing grant applications in FY 2007, which represents a flattening of the steady increase in grant applications that followed the doubling of NIH's budget.
"I think that should be expected as a new equilibrium gets established," Dr. Niederhuber acknowledged.
BSA Chair Dr. Robert Young, of Fox Chase Cancer Center, was concerned that, because the negative impact of budget constraints on research grants was not as great as had been expected, members of Congress might not understand the extent to which "programs aren't being funded, investigators aren't being funded."
Dr. Niederhuber responded that he and NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, in their appearances before Congress, have stressed the impact of flat budgets on research funded by NCI and NIH, and that "there is a new level of understanding at present" among legislators.That's reflected, he continued, in the budget increases for NIH and NCI in House and Senate legislation that goes beyond the administration's budget requests, and the targets for overall grants and grants to new investigators that are included in the language accompanying those bills.
- Carmen Phillips