Washington Update

Special Reviews Highlighted During CSR Advisory Council Meeting

By: Yvette Seger
Thursday, March 29, 2018

The recent meeting of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) Center for Scientific Review (CSR) Advisory Council focused on the opportunities and challenges faced by the group, which oversees review for the majority of NIH funding applications.

In his introductory remarks, CSR Director Richard Nakamura, PhD, noted that CSR staff continue to face workload challenges, both in terms of application volume and increasing review complexity. Even with these challenges, average review time is 150 days, versus the 200-day average for reviews conducted by individual Institutes or Centers.

While CSR continues to integrate new technologies into the review process, surveys indicate that both reviewers and scientific review officers prefer face-to-face meetings to discuss applications. For the foreseeable future, the Center will continue with this strategy for the majority of reviews.

In fiscal year (FY) 2017, CSR managed receipt and referral of 90,000 applications for NIH funds. Of these, review for 61,000 applications was managed by CSR, guided by 247 scientific review officers and 18,000 external reviewers during 1,600 review meetings. The cost of NIH peer remains steady at about $2,000 per application.

With three new members joining the Council, CSR Acting Deputy Director Noni Byrnes, PhD (the Council’s Executive Secretary) used the remainder of the meeting to highlight areas where CSR was tasked with implementing unique solutions to ensure robust peer review.

A series of short presentations provided overviews of programs that adopted modified strategies for peer review due to program goals, program size, or both. Those on the peer review processes for the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences’ Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award emphasized different strategies for evaluating the research programs of individual investigators.

The review program for the NIH-FDA Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science demonstrates an approach for large-scale, interagency programs, while the Native American Research Centers for Health approach is best suited for complex, community-center research projects. The Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases presentation highlighted unique challenges faced by scientific researcher organizations when partnering with funding agencies in other nations.

Finally, a guest presentation by Stephen Katz, MD, PhD, Director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, provided a perspective on how various Institutes and Centers utilize peer review to achieve Institute-specific goals.