This week, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, declared that the biomedical research funding agency no longer plans to implement the controversial Grant Support Index. Instead, Collins and Lawrence Tabak, principal deputy director of the NIH, announced that the agency will launch the Next Generation of Researchers Initiative to support early and mid-career investigators.
The GSI, which was proposed in early May, drew a firestorm of feedback, both positive and negative, from the scientific community. The index would have imposed a scoring system and capped funding for researchers with more than three R01 or equivalent awards. The goal was to free up funds to support early and mid-career investigators who typically are underfunded and do not compete well with their more established counterparts. While some up-and-coming scientists viewed the new approach to funding as necessary, leaders of more established labs strongly opposed any change that would alter or even reduce funding streams.
In May, the ASBMB responded to the NIH’s proposed GSI rubric, citing the effects it would have on collaborative projects, training and core services awards and potential inequities caused by using “points” as a proxy for grant dollars. Institute directors then began offering revised GSI presentations, both externally and at NIH Advisory Council meetings. It became apparent that the NIH was listening to the community and was adjusting the proposal accordingly.
The Next Generation of Researchers Initiative, using some of the same data and justifications that were used for the GSI, will take a different approach to supporting, and hopefully sustaining, the same demographic.
The new initiative targets investigators with 10 or fewer years of experience as well as investigators seeking their second awards. The NIH will begin to free up $210 million a year for the next five years to ultimately total $1.1 billion to sustain its efforts.
While the new initiative does not impose a cap on individual investigators, it will reallocate funds from existing programs to support its growth. The initiative will seek to provide greater emphasis on funding mechanisms like the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award, Sustaining Outstanding Achievement in Research, and Supplements to Advance Research programs. It will also extend funding cutoff points for early investigators to 25 percent. The agency plans to develop metrics to assess the impact of the initiative and will continue to seek input from the community.
The ASBMB supports efforts by the NIH to make the biomedical research enterprise sustainable. We will continue to provide updates as the particulars of the Next Generation of Researchers Initiative are released, and we look forward to working with the NIH to ensure that the new initiative accomplishes its goals and avoids any negative impacts on the community as a whole.