June 16, 2017

NIH Rethinks Policy to Bolster Early Mid-Career Investigators

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director, Francis Collins, MD, announced in a June 8th advisory committee meeting that NIH is withdrawing its Grant Support Index (GSI) proposal which would have limited the number of NIH-funded grants an investigator could have at one time. Although still committed to the underlying goal of the GSI proposal — to bolster the medical research workforce by bolstering funding opportunities for early and mid-career investigators — Collins noted that NIH had received extensive feedback expressing significant concerns with the methodology of the proposed GSI scoring system. He also reported stakeholder community apprehension that the GSI proposal would discourage researcher collaboration, infrastructure and training development, and complex trials.

Collins noted that, notwithstanding concerns expressed related to the GSI proposal, he also heard “almost universal support” for coming up with ways to encourage early- and mid-career investigators. In response, and consistent with a ‘call to action’ included in the 21st Century Cures legislation that was signed into law in late 2016, NIH is adopting the “Next Generation Researchers Initiative” (NGRI).

An NIH-posted statement from Dr. Collins and a new NGRI website detail the multi-pronged approach NIH plans to take to increase the number of, and stabilize the career path for, NIH-funded early-stage and mid-career investigators. Among the priorities are “extending the payline for early stage investigators, with an aim of funding most applications that score in the top 25 percent” and providing additional support for investigators with ten or fewer years as a principal investigator” and “[e]xtending the payline for those about to lose all NIH funding.”

The cost of adopting the measures outlined for the NGRI is expected to be $210 million in the first year ramping up over five years to approximately $1.1 billion per year and will be achieved by adjusting funding in other NIH priority areas. NIH intends to “track the impact of NIH Institute and Center funding decisions for early-stage and mid-career investigators with fundable scores, to ensure this new strategy is effectively implemented” and “will encourage the development and testing of metrics that can be used to assess the impact of NIH grant support on scientific progress.”

NIH welcomes feedback on the NGRI proposal through the Open Mike Blog or the following email address: publicinput@od.nih.gov.