This week, the National Institutes of Health announced a proposed policy change that will limit the number of extramural grants that NIH-funded researchers can be involved in. This new policy, estimated to affect 6 percent of NIH-funded investigators, will potentially free up funds to support 1,600 new R01 or equivalent awards.
Francis Collins, director of the NIH, in a statement released on May. 2, introduced the Grant Support Index. Modeled after the NIH’s Research Commitment Index, the GIS imposes a point system that limits the number of projects a PI or co-PI can participate in.
How points will be assigned and what, If any, exceptions will exist are still in development. But with a score cap of 21, any investigator who is included on a new NIH grant and exceeds this threshold would need to justify their involvement and explain how they will adjust their commitments to their existing NIH grants.
Understanding that different research requires different levels of funding, the GIS shies away from focusing on only funding amounts and instead takes into account the type of grant, the complexity of the research and the size of the project. This change in policy will not affect grants that have already been awarded but, when implemented, will affect new applications.
The NIH hopes to achieve two goals at once. The first is to spread the wealth, so to speak, because right now 10 percent of NIH-funded investigators receive over 40 percent of the funding. The second is to maximize the return on investment for taxpayers. The hope is that the new rule will allow the NIH to fund a wider range of projects that may increase the chance of yielding new discoveries.
It should be noted that the NIH has not released an official notice of the policy change and will be soliciting feedback from the community and institute advisory committees in the coming months. The ASBMB will monitor the new rule and provide the NIH with feedback as it evolves.