Created by on 2/14/2012 12:00:00 AM

Funding success rates and the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) support of new researchers were two topics recently covered in the Rock Talk blog authored by Deputy Director for Extramural Research, Sally Rocky, PhD. In fiscal year (FY) 2011, the research project grant (RPG) success rates declined to 18 percent, a new low for the past few decades. This drop is due to an increased number of applications, a reduction in the NIH budget, and prior grant commitments. As for early-career researchers, the average age at which a principal investigator receives their first R01 has continued to plateau at around 42 years for PhD applicants.
In the early 1980’s, the RPG success rate was around 30 percent, but it steeply declined between 2003 and 2006 to around 20 percent (see data on NIH funding on the FASEB web site). 2011 marks a further decline to 18 percent, although the primary cause appears to be an increase in applications. For R21 grants, this was clearly the case, as applications rose by 17 percent, which nearly completely accounts for the reduction in the grant success rate, from 15 to 13 percent. The explanation behind decreases in R01 grant success rates is more complex. Most of the four percentage point decrease, approximately two and a half percent, is due to the combination of a one percent reduction in the NIH’s budget and prior grant commitments. Increased numbers of applications and a two percent increase in grant size (which is less than the annual increase in the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index) account for the remaining one and a half percentage points.
While NIH has made several efforts over the past several decade to support early career researchers, the age at which researchers receive their first R01 has risen from 36 to 42 years for PhD applicants (and is even higher for MD-PhDs and MD researchers) over the past three decades. The recent policy that half of all first-time R01 recipients must be early-career investigators (within ten years of receiving their terminal degree) does not appear to have decreased the age at entry. A change to funding targets, specifically that the success rate for R01s among new investigators should be the same as for experienced ones, might have an impact for early-career investigators in future years. The blog post reaffirmed NIH’s commitment to support early-career researchers and provide them the opportunity to manage their own projects.
In related news, NIH issued its FY 2012 Fiscal Policy for Grant Awards. Notable policy changes include the following:
  • a two percent increase at all stipend levels for National Research Service Awards
  • no cost of living/inflationary adjustments in FY 2012 for non-competing awards
  • discontinuing inflationary increases for future year commitments for all research grant awards issued in FY 2012
  • a commitment to keep the average size of awards constant at FY 2011 levels or lower.