Sally Rockey reports on grant success rates at NIH

When it comes to grant review, it can be difficult to separate the facts from the hearsay. However, the director of extramural research at the National Institutes of Health, Sally Rockey, tried to do just that in a recent blog post. Rockey addresses the “urban myth” that grants reviewed by the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) are funded at a lower rate than those reviewed by an individual institute or center (I/C).

Rockey first points out that the vast majority of grants are in fact reviewed by the CSR, while only 17 percent are reviewed by individual I/Cs. She also stated that the types of grants reviewed at CSR and I/Cs are fairly different. In general, CSR reviews most R01, fellowship, and small-business applications, while I/Cs review most program-project, training-grant and career-development award applications. Rockey noted that I/Cs do review some R01 grants — typically the ones with I/C-specific features, as well as specific requests for applications.

On the surface, the legend does appear to be true: For fiscal 2010, CSR had a 17 percent success rate compared with a 25 percent success rate at the I/Cs. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story.

“That is really comparing apples to oranges,” Rocky insists. “A closer look shows that there is essentially no difference in your likelihood of getting funded when you compare the same types of applications.”

When one looks at RO1 applications in FY10, CSR had a 19 percent success rate while the I/Cs had a 18 percent success rate. The same is true when comparing success rate for RFAs reviewed at CSR vs. the I/Cs: 24 percent compared with 22 percent, respectively.

In late March, members of ASBMB’s Public Affairs Advisory Committee met with several  I/C directors, including Rockey, to discuss topics such as peer review, funding for investigator-initiated grants and the plans for NIH during these fiscally constrained times. The ASBMB PAAC and Office of Public Affairs will continue to engage with NIH leadership to ensure that the issues important to our members are addressed.

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