Washington Update

NIGMS Council Discusses Funding Successes and Forthcoming Challenges

By: Yvette Seger
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
On May 16, the National Advisory Council for General Medical Sciences convened in-person to discuss programmatic outcomes and strategies to fulfill strategic priorities for the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) within the National Institutes of Health. In his Director’s report, Jon Lorsch, PhD, NIGMS Director, reviewed cumulative statistics for grant applications and investigators within the institute from fiscal year (FY) 2014 through FY 2023. Of specific interest was the 36 percent success rate for research project grants in FY 2023 and a cumulative investigator rate (number of researchers applying for NIGMS support who are funded) of 47 percent. Lorsch specifically highlighted the continued growth of the R35 Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA). In FY 2023, 53 percent of early-stage investigators (ESIs) were supported by this mechanism, and the institute is on-track to achieve its target of having 60 percent of ESIs funded via MIRA by FY 2025. The rate of MIRA renewals continues to outpace that of traditional R01s, with the former at or exceeding 78 percent over the past three years versus 44 percent or lower for R01 renewals during the same period.

While celebrating the programmatic growth of the past decade, Lorsch noted that NIH is facing immediate budgetary challenges. For FY 2024, the NIH appropriations were essentially flat leaving all institutes—NIGMS included—to consider the downstream effects on research priorities. Another budgetary factor is the decision to take steps towards the recommendations from the Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group on Re-envisioning NIH-Supported Postdoctoral Training to increase stipends for postdoctoral scholars. While not yet at the target of $70,000 recommended in the report, these increases likely will still have a ripple effect on the number of postdocs that can be supported by research grants. Similarly, the number of trainee spots available through training grants may decrease depending on appropriations.

In addition to Lorsch’s report, Michael Lauer, MD, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, gave a presentation that highlighted NIH’s shifting perspectives on research misconduct (e.g., fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism). Using historical cases of egregious research misconduct to set the stage, Lauer noted that research misconduct—intentional or unintentional—happens more frequently than the previously perceived “bad actors.” In addition to research misconduct findings having direct effects on individual scientists and institutions (e.g., fines, disbarment, etc.), there is an increased risk for individual health outcomes if clinical studies are based on faulty primary research findings, for which Lauer cited the recent decision of NIH to halt a $30 million clinical trial of an experimental drug in stroke patients.

The complete recording of the public session is available via NIH Videocast. The next council meeting is September 18.