NIH Announces Initiative to Fund Early and Mid-Career Researchers

On June 8, 2017, the NIH leadership announced an initiative aimed at increasing grant support for early-stage (ESI) and vulnerable mid-career investigators. The Next Generation Researchers Initiative (NGRI) replaces an earlier plan to limit the number of grants per investigator and was first presented at a meeting of the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director.

The earlier plan was introduced on May 2 and sparked controversy because it would have limited the number of NIH grants an individual could hold. Although there is broad agreement that both early stage investigators (ESIs) and mid-career researchers with only one grant are in a precarious position, there were objections to NIH’s plan to rectify the problem. The earlier plan would have made it difficult for individuals to hold more than the equivalent of 3 single-PI R-01 grants. Grant-equivalents were to be determined using a new a Grant Support Index (GSI) that measured PI’s effort rather than actual funding. The 3 grant limit was based upon data suggesting that marginal scientific productivity leveled off for individuals who held more than 3 awards. NIH estimated by capping grant support, it would have enough money to fund an additional 1600 awards. However, concerns were raised about how this measure might impact team science, complex trials, research networks, and support for infrastructure and training, and NIH decided to withdraw that proposal and replace it with the NGRI.

The NGRI aims to fund most ESI applications to the 25th percentile and extend the payline for mid-career investigators at risk of losing all NIH funding as well as those who just missed the payline for their second RPG. The policy is to be implemented immediately so some applicants whose grants scored in the fundable range but did not receive funding may be funded after all.

The total cost of these measures is estimated at $210 million in the first year and may increase to $1.1 billion in five years, depending upon the trajectory of the NIH budget as a whole. The NIH leadership did not identify a source for these funds. Rather, ICs will be expected to readjust their priorities to ensure that these investigators are funded. NIH also plans to track the outcome of funding decisions for early and mid-stage investigators with fundable scores to monitor implementation of the policy.

For more details, see the message posted by NIH Director Francis Collins on June 8 and the NGRI webpage.