Washington Update

NIH Introduces Simplified Review Framework for Research Grants

By: Yvette Seger
Wednesday, October 25, 2023
On October 19, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a notice announcing a new framework for peer review of most research project grants beginning with submissions for due dates on or after January 25, 2025. These changes reflect years of deliberation initiated by the Center for Scientific Review Advisory Council and NIH leadership to ensure peer review emphasizes scientific merit of applications while minimizing reputational bias.

The Simplified Review Framework reorganizes the five review criteria currently used–Significance, Investigators, Innovation, Approach, and Environment–into three factors. Factor 1: Importance of the Research and Factor 2: Rigor and Feasibility will be scored by reviewers on the 1–9 scale. Factor 3:Expertise and Resources will not receive a numerical score, but reviewers will be prompted to assess whether the application is deemed “appropriate” or “in need of additional expertise and/or resources” to fulfill the proposed research. If the latter option is selected, the reviewer will be required to provide comments indicating specific gaps in expertise or resources for completing the proposed project. The goal of this latter change is to prompt reviewers to consider the investigator and research environment in the context of the proposed project rather than general scientific achievement or reputation. Reviewers will use all three factors to determine scientific merit and overall impact score. 

Additional review criteria, such as protections for human subjects, use of vertebrate animals, and biohazards, as well as application status (resubmission, renewal, or revision) will be considered by reviewers when assessing scientific merit and overall impact score but will not be individually scored. Authentication of key biological and/or chemical resources and the budget and period of support will be considered by reviewers as applicable to individual projects, also will not be scored individually and should not factored into the overall impact score.

Recognizing that these changes require training support to ensure uniform application across study sections, NIH has provided several resources to help researchers, reviewers, and administrators understand the new changes, including a policy-specific website and a Frequently Asked Questions resource. NIH will also host an online briefing on November 3, 1–2 pm ET, to review the changes and answer questions about the new framework.