Washington Update

FASEB Supports Proposed Simplified Framework for NIH Peer Review

By: Yvette Seger
Thursday, February 23, 2023
On February 10, FASEB sent comments to National Institutes of Health (NIH) in response to a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input on a proposed simplified review framework for research project grant applications submitted to the agency. Initiated by NIH’s Center for Scientific Review Advisory Committee in 2020, the proposed simplified review framework reflects extensive dialogue across NIH leadership to ensure the peer review framework achieves its primary purpose of assessing scientific merit of grant proposals while minimizing implicit biases based on investigator or research location.

In its comments, FASEB commended NIH for the thoughtful process used to develop the proposed simplified framework that emphasizes scientific merit while reducing reviewer workload and the effects of implicit or reputational bias on funding outcomes. At its core, the proposed simplified framework is not that different from the current process, with reviewers still assessing a proposal for significance, innovation, approach, investigator, and environment, just not as five separate scored elements. In addition to consolidating the five evaluation criteria into three, only two – Importance of the Research and Rigor and Feasibility – would receive a numerical score on the existing 1 through 9 scale. The third factor – Expertise and Resources – would be assessed as “appropriate” or “gaps identified,” with the latter requiring the reviewer to provide comments on gaps. By eliminating a score for Expertise and Resources, NIH aims to reduce reputational biases of a particular investigator or research institution.

Recognizing the challenges associated with updating peer review processes, FASEB urged NIH to invest resources into developing and communicating the timeline and plans for implementing the new framework to ensure community awareness and preparedness of the updated criteria and process. This will require additional trainings targeted to applicants, reviewers, and scientific review officers responsible for administering peer review meetings as well as development of new resources to encourage use of the full range of scores within the 1 through 9 scoring system.