NIH Bans the A2 revised application

Oct 09 2008 Published by under Grant Review, Grantsmanship

The NIH has issued notice NOT-OD-09-003 to limit applicants to a single amendment (-01A1) of grants submitted for the first time after January 25, 2009.

NIH announces a change in the existing policy on resubmission (amended) applications (see http://grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/amendedapps.htm). Beginning with original new applications (i.e., never submitted) and competing renewal applications submitted for the January 25, 2009 due dates and beyond, the NIH will accept only a single amendment to the original application. Failure to receive funding after two submissions (i.e., the original and the single amendment) will mean that the applicant should substantially re-design the project rather than simply change the application in response to previous reviews. It is expected that this policy will lead to funding high quality applications earlier, with fewer resubmissions.


(As a brief history lesson for the young'uns, it was not so long ago that the limit to only two revised versions was adopted. )
They don't want to drag out the A2 applications for those applications for which the original has been submitted prior to the deadline, either.

Original new and competing renewal applications that were submitted prior to January 25, 2009 will be permitted two amendments (A1 and A2). For these "grandfathered" applications, NIH expects that any A2 will be submitted no later than January 7, 2011, and NIH will not accept A2 applications after that date.

In case you still didn't get the message that the NIH is taking this one seriously, there will be no gradual roll-out or piloting as with some other recent initiatives.

This policy applies to all applications, including applications submitted under the NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, Career Development Awards, Individual Fellowships, Institutional Training Grants, Resource Grants, Program Projects, and Centers. Currently no amendments are permitted for applications received in response to a Request for Applications (RFA) unless it is specified in the Funding Opportunity Announcement, in which case only one amendment will be permitted.

Implications?
Uncertain. I've been a critic of the way that reviewers use the revision process to triage their grant application scoring. In my view, unrevised original applications are discriminated against because reviewers feel that the PI should get some extra consideration on the "last chance for this proposal". I think that reviewers should try to get serious about grants the first time. They should recognize when revision is necessary to improve the resulting science, when the revision will result in a better application but no change in the science, etc.
This move will certainly cut one round out of the process but I'm not sure it goes far enough. The typical reviewer behavior will still be present. I would be very happy to be wrong and to see reviewers recognize the spirit behind this new limit and get more serious about the original applications.
It will be very interesting to see what will happen during 2009 when applications that can go as far as the A2 are being pitted against those with the new limits.

10 responses so far

  • Beaker says:

    This policy opens up many cans of worms, and I don't have enough experience with study section dynamics to say if the overall effect will be positive or negative. But one message does seem clear: if you are planning to submit a brand new application, you are smart to let the grandfathered A2s clear the system first. It seems likely that there will be an (unspoken) push to get those A2s funded, to "reward" those who so patiently worked their way up to the front of the line. I fear such decisions won't be made solely on the merits of the science.
    It seems prudent to spend another cycle or two making your initial submission so freakin' good that at the very least it avoids triage.

  • Another biomedical researcher says:

    In addition to those issues discussed above and previously, I see two major issues related to review (especially IRT new investigators):
    1. This puts fairly extreme pressure on getting the study section assignment right. Switching study sections after the A0 becomes much dicier than before. Particularly relevant for new investigators and science that doesn't exactly fit the main thrust of any traditional study section (e.g. interdisciplinary science).
    2. The 70% triage rate common in many study sections becomes a pretty severe consideration. Consider two proposals, one at 28% and one at 33% as an A0. Essentially indistinguishable scores (and both will require revision). But one gets full discussion, one just gets the written reviews. Which one do you think fill fare better as an A1? The one more thoroughly vetted earlier or the one coming before the full study section for the first time?

  • Writedit says:

    Agreed on getting the study section right becoming even more critical. I certainly hope this policy will allow/encourage study sections to focus on the scientific merit of the original submission and set aside a small percentage for reconsideration as A1s following targeted methodologic/study design tweaking or collection of additional supporting data etc. - the sort of revisions that only take one additional submission to establish merit. With the addition of a provisional score for all the triaged applications, PIs should have better clues as to whether they should come back with an A1 or start over (or start driving a car dealership courtesy van). The separate percentiling of A0s and A1s may or may not be helpful ... perhaps only A0s should be percentiled?

  • Writedit says:

    I should clarify that I do not mean study sections should literally set aside applications for reconsideration as A1s but help applicants understand they are being encouraged to come back for a second try via the score assigned and comments made (in the new structured summary statement). The trick will be to switch the A1 mentality from one of entitlement & having patience/persistence/desperation rewarded to an invitation to strengthen/refine a good proposal.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    This is reminding me of something...

  • A says:

    For those who are going to submit for the first time, and who might not otherwise be trying to get an R01 proposal in before the Jan 09 deadline, is this a good enough incentive to submit sooner? Or should we just expect the first application to not even get a revision and not worry? Arg, I'm confused enough about the whole thing as it is!

  • DrugMonkey says:

    A, first of all there are no normal new research grant deadlines before the A2 deadline. I'm sure the timing is no accident. If you have a relevant RFA deadline I guess you can sneak one in.
    I think that 2009 is going to be a very tough year for newly submitted grants. There will be a big backlog of A2s coming through and so new grants will get the double whammy of being up against A1s and A2s without having a chance to go to A2s themselves. Reviewer adaptation to the new reality is not likely to be immediate in my view although I would be delighted to be wrong on this.

  • Art says:

    So, what is to keep those A2s from coming back as new, slightly-modified A0s?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    So, what is to keep those A2s from coming back as new, slightly-modified A0s?
    Nothing and this has always been the case with the A2s under the present scheme. This will be interesting to watch.
    In my very limited experience, it doesn't take much work to get past the CSR assignment process with a thinly veiled A3 application. Reviewers frequently know what is going on if it ends up with someone who has seen the prior versions and occasionally they remark upon this. Both critically and approvingly. Although I think that if I liked the "A3" version I would fail to mention that I'd seen it before :-).
    With that said, I have fairly recently been regaled with a story in which a reviewer explicitly spiked an app because s/he knew it was a third revision instead of a new grant.
    Bottom line is that it will be very hard to fool reviewers unless it goes to new panel (and you don't get unlucky with a traveling ad hoc member).
    It will be interesting to see if reviewers adhere to the spirit of the new limit on revision or recapitulate old behavior by prioritizing new applications that derive from two prior reviews of a supposedly-different proposal.

  • bill says:

    I think that the changes to the old (A2) scheme would be worthwhile if reviewer behavior changed. It's not.
    I am personally not so sure that NIH is getting the right people reviewing the grants. There is a lot of politics that goes into who sits on these panels and CSR is not doing their job well in getting leaders in the fields.
    I currently have 3 RO1's. Two are up for renewal, and I've already been triaged on one. The critiques were extremely mild, supportive of our work and effusive in praise for our productivity.
    I also think there's a bias at present against those who've been successful... if it's clear your lab won't be shut down there is no perceived need to give support. Jealousy of successful people seems to factor in.
    I do agree with those who've said that living on one RO1 is lunacy. If you don't have something in the pipeline at all times you are not dealing with the current realities.

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