Topic: Different Grant Mechanisms
by Ronald Ellis
Rowan University SOM
Optional Comments on the Problem
Several goals emphasized by the working group could be implemented effectively by a change in NIH funding mechanisms. This change would be simple to administrate but far-reaching in its effects. These goals it would address are: (1) to fund a diverse portfolio of research, (2) to ensure that Universities provide significant support for faculty members, which will help avoid the proliferation of PIs, and (3) to help new investigators and smaller groups compete on an equal footing.
To meet these goals, a structural change in funding would be more effective than recommendations about priorities, which are difficult to implement.
Thus, I recommend that the NIH divide R01 funding into two categories, and allocate money to each category at a policy level.
First, the NIH should create R01A grants, whose goal is to nurture a diverse research infrastructure throughout the country. They would have the following restrictions. (1) No investigator could hold more than one R01A award, since their primary goal is funding diverse research approaches. (2) These awards would each be limited to $175,000 per year for five years, so that they could be available to more groups. (3) Only $25,000 per year could be used to support PI salary, which guarantees that the host institution also provides significant support.
Second, the NIH should create R01B grants, whose goal is to fund larger laboratories and more expensive projects. These awards would be open to all investigators without restriction, much like current R01 awards.
Most importantly, the NIH should dedicate money to each category as a matter of policy. I recommend 35% of the budget to R01A awards, 15% to R01B awards, and 10% for all other categories of Research Project grants, like R21s and P01s, for a total of 60% of the budget. By making these allocations a matter of policy, about a third of the budget would be reserved for a diverse set of laboratories to carry out biomedical research through the R01A mechanism. The best labs could grow and carry out larger projects, but they would do so by competing with each other for the R01B and other awards needed to do so, rather than taking funding from younger investigators or smaller groups.