NIH grant-funding success rate reaches all-time low in 2011

On Jan. 13, the National Institutes of Health deputy director for extramural research, Sally Rockey, posted a blog piece that presented funding data for the NIH in 2011. The data showed what probably came as no surprise to those in the biomedical research community – overall success rates for research project grants (RPGs) fell to an all-time low of only 18 percent in FY11, 3 percentage points lower than that for FY10.

Rockey explained the cause of the decrease in greater detail in a subsequent blog piece posted a week later. Success rate is the number of funded grants divided by the number of applications. The decrease is due in large part to the drastic increase in applications for FY11. The NIH received a record 49,592 competing RPG applications, an 8 percent increase from FY10. In addition to more applicants, the NIH was able to funder fewer grants than in FY10. The RPG funding pool was decreased by $117 million as a result of the 1 percent cut to the NIH budget, and the average cost of each RO1 award also increased slightly.

Another factor that contributed to the drop in success rate came from the increase in short-term R21 grant applications. The number of competing R21 grants rose 17 percent, accounting for more than one-half of the total increase in RPG applications. Finally, because most RGPs are funded for three to five years, this creates a funding commitment for non competing grants in the years after they are initially awarded. In FY11, the amount of funding already committed to non competing grants increased by $189 million.

In addition to overall RPG grant success rates, Rockey showed data on success rates for new investigators and female investigators. All the data included in the blog come from the NIH Data Book, which was recently updated with the 2011 data.

The ASBMB Public Affairs Advisory Committee meets biannually with members of the NIH leadership and the falling RPG success rate consistently has been a discussion point. In March 2011, the ASBMB PAAC released a position statement that put forth three recommendations to help increase the payline for investigator-initiated RO1 grants. Read the position statement here.

Do you have suggestions for how the NIH can raise the RPG payline? We want to hear them! Email the ASBMB Office of Public Affairs at publicaffairs@asbmb.org

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