NINDS Stimulus Funds Plan

Mar 10 2009 Published by under NIH Budgets and Economics

The Director of NINDS just sent an e-mail containing the most specific guidance to date concerning NINDS's plans for use of stimulus funds. Since it does not appear that this message is up yet on the NINDS Web site, I am copy-pasting the entire thing inside the crack.
Notable points include:
(1) R01s, R21s, R03s, and R15s between 11 and 25 %ile from the pool of applications that would have been awarded 2009 fiscal year funds will be considered for two years of funding.
(2) R01s requesting more than two years of funding that are considered for funding for two years will be subject to renegotiation of Aims and budget with program.
(3) New Investigators will not be considered for two-year stimulus funding, but "most" new investigators in the 11 to 25 %ile range will be funded for the requested number of years "as we did last year".
(4) There will be a trans-NIH targeted supplement program.
(5) Although there will not be funds set aside specifically for SBIR applications, small businesses are eligible to submit Challenge Grant applications to compete for the general pool of funds.
(6) NINDS does not encourage new investigators to apply for Challenge Grants.


As you know, $10.4 billion has been allocated to the NIH through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). This is an unprecedented opportunity for us to participate in stimulating the economy by creating jobs and funding high quality research. To implement the ARRA, NIH has announced several funding opportunities (see http://grants.nih.gov/recovery ) and will release more in the near future. We know that many of you are interested in how NINDS will use the approximately $400 million in stimulus funding that we anticipate receiving. What follows is a brief summary of our current plans. Please continue to check our website (http://www.ninds.nih.gov/recovery/ ), where we will post more information as it becomes available.
Our current strategy includes: 1. Funding particularly meritorious grant applications consistent with the goals of the ARRA * We anticipate using at least half of our allocation to fund high quality applications (including R01s, R21s, R03s, and R15s) that were reviewed recently but not selected for funding. We will select meritorious applications that will contribute to the economic stimulus by creating or retaining jobs and accelerating the pace of scientific research. Applications will be selected based on the reviewers' comments and the potential to achieve a subset of the project's goals in 2 years. The majority of applications under consideration will have scores corresponding to percentiles between our current payline (the 11.0th percentile) and approximately the 25.0th percentile. They will be selected primarily from the pool of applications normally awarded with fiscal year 2009 funds - those from the September 2008, January 2009, and May 2009 Council rounds.
* Depending on the availability of funds, we may also consider a subset of applications from the September 2009 Council round.
* Since ARRA funds must be disbursed by September 2010, stimulus R01s will be funded in 2009 for a maximum of 2 years. We will only fund R01 applications for which it is reasonable to expect that significant progress can be made within this time period. Program directors will contact all PI's with applications under consideration to discuss potential revisions of the Specific Aims and budget. It is not necessary to contact your program director to discuss your application.
* 2 year ARRA R01s will not be awarded to new investigators. NINDS is already planning to fund most new PI R01s within this percentile range (as we did last year) and we would prefer that new PIs receive the longer terms of funding requested in their applications.
2. Participating in the trans-NIH targeted supplement programs * Further information about these programs will be available very soon on the NIH website listed above. The general announcement will contain a link describing specific NINDS interests and requirements.
* Among the NIH announcements that have already been published is an NCCR program through which applicants can request funding for shared instrumentation (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-RR-09-008.html ). Any item of equipment costing more than $100,000 should be requested through that program, not through NINDS.
3. Participating in the trans-NIH Challenge Grant program * This program is described on the NIH website (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-OD-09-003.html ). This website contains a link to an Omnibus file (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/challenge_award/Omnibus.pdf ) that describes the challenge areas of specific interest to NINDS and also lists topics relevant to other NIH institutes. A second link (http://www.ninds.nih.gov/recovery/challenge-grants.htm ) lists challenge areas that are only of interest to NINDS. Please note that NINDS will only fund projects with goals related to its mission (see http://www.ninds.nih.gov/about_ninds/index.htm ). The Program officials listed as contacts for each challenge area can help potential applicants assess mission relevance, but do not have additional information about the scope of these challenges beyond what is listed in the announcement.
* It is important to remember that a relatively small proportion of total NIH ARRA funds (approximately $200 million) has been allocated to this program by the Office of the NIH Director and that a large number of applications will be competing for these funds. Depending on the availability of NINDS ARRA funds, we may consider making additional Challenge Grant awards.
* Although there will not be funds set aside specifically for SBIR applications, small businesses are eligible to submit Challenge Grant applications to compete for the general pool of funds.
* NINDS does not encourage new investigators to apply for Challenge Grants, which will be awarded for 2 years only and are non-renewable. New investigators who receive these awards will lose their new PI status when competing for future NINDS R01 funding.
* At the present time, NINDS does not plan to issue any additional Challenge Grant announcements.
Finally, if you choose to respond to an ARRA program, please read the relevant announcement carefully, including its description of the terms of the award (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/policy/NIH_HHS_ARRA_Award_Terms.pdf ). If you still have specific questions, feel free to contact your Program Official. We wish you the best of luck in taking advantage of this important opportunity!

13 responses so far

  • JD says:

    The comments on new investigators and challenge grants seem to really confuse me. On one hand, it sounds like a program designed for new investigators. On the other hand, every NIH PO I contact seems to discourage the idea.
    Am I missing something? I had assumed the goal for a new investigator was to win a grant at any costs to begin the process of independence.
    What am I missing?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Early Stage Investigator and New Investigator are specific PI designations that come with special consideration for funding at many NIH Institutes and Centers. These considerations have become increasingly formulaic. As an illustration suppose the regular funding cutoff is 10%ile. NI or ESI applications might have a funding cutoff of 20%ile.
    To qualify, you cannot have served as a PI on a particular set of research grant mechanisms, clearly the Challenge ones count for this.
    The worry is that you will "waste" your NI/ESI special consideration on something that is less than the ideal, i.e., 5yr R01 preferably at full modular cost limits if not greater.
    (obviously the better solution would have been to say that getting a Challenge grant did not disqualify from ESI/NI status but that would have made too much sense..)

  • JD says:

    Thanks for the helpful response.
    I agree that your point about making Challenge grants count as as first NIH grant would be the easiest solution.
    It's a balancing act; one of the RFA looks "too good to be true" in terms of alignment with my research interests. Local advice seems to be to ghost write it for a very senior PI and just make sure that it covers a lot of my time. Not an ideal solution, all things considered.

  • Reading between the lines, it sounds like NINDS is trying to discourage *everyone* from applying for Challenge grants!

  • Dave says:

    I forget exactly where I read it, but someone speculated that the NIH challenge grants are already basically awarded, and the Challenge grant 'competition' is basically just a mechanism to make it legal. This speculation was fueled by the amazingly specific challenge descriptions that seemed to match certain lab's recent pursuits amazingly well.
    As I learn more and more and get word from Program officers, I have yet to see anything to suggest that this cynical view is false. In fact, it seems to make more and more sense.
    In fact, I am growing so cynical in this regard that I have abandoned my own plans to submit a challenge grant proposal. And I can understand the advice to young investigators to not waste their time. Good advice, I think.

  • qaz says:

    The program officers I've talked to have said that the Challenges were written really quickly and that's why they're so specific. I suspect they're more written for the lab the program officer would want to run (rather than some specific lab out in the world). On the other hand, they've also told me that everyone and their brother (and their cousin... and their cousin's cousin... and their dog...) are applying for Challenge grants. But the last program officer I talked to seemed to suggest that they might increase the funding for Challenge grants. That the "$200M" was a minimum, not a maximum.
    I do think they're trying to discourage Challenge grants, but that's more because so many people are asking for them.

  • New Investigators will not be considered for two-year stimulus funding
    NINDS does not encourage new investigators to apply for Challenge Grants.
    2 year ARRA R01s will not be awarded to new investigators.
    What the fucking fuck?? Hey I know how to stimulate spending and increase jobs in science ... give the stimulus money to established investigators and totally fuck over all of the junior faculty in the US as this will give the current postdocs a job.

  • Dave says:

    But the last program officer I talked to seemed to suggest that they might increase the funding for Challenge grants. That the "$200M" was a minimum, not a maximum.

    I heard this too. But how much? I doubt they'll double it. And so...

    I do think they're trying to discourage Challenge grants, but that's more because so many people are asking for them.

    Even if each Carnegie 'Research University' in the U.S. only sent in one application, the success rate would be about 1%. And chances are there will be multiple applications per institution, and applications from more than just the top 200 U.S. research institutions. Gotta weigh those odds against the effort of putting in the application. This may be relevant: http://vegasclick.com/gambling/odds-win-million-dollars.html

  • And chances are there will be multiple applications per institution
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!! I'm submitting two just myself! Anyone who does anything more than copy/paste text from other unfunded or incompletely funded applications they have written is out of their fucking minds.

  • HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!! I'm submitting two just myself!
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!! Me too! Obviously not to NINDS though.

  • qaz says:

    Even if each Carnegie 'Research University' in the U.S. only sent in one application, the success rate would be about 1%. And chances are there will be multiple applications per institution, and applications from more than just the top 200 U.S. research institutions.

    HA! Each institution? Each investigator is submitting two. (I'm planning two myself.) How many biomedical investigators are there in the US?
    One of the program officers told me "it would be good practice" and would help me "get it ready" for an R01 submission in the next cycle. Everyone is going to have an extra R01 or two lying around to turn in. So if you thought the last few years of low funding rates were bad...

  • DrZZ says:

    Regarding the stimulus bill (AKA ARRA) and NIH; here's a quote from an email from the NCI director

    Because ARRA is a law and not merely a policy, both the Department of Health and Human Services and NIH are hard at work carefully parsing details of its implementation, which will, in many cases, specify how funds can be spent and stipulate how we report on where ARRA funds have gone. Importantly, money from ARRA must be kept separate from our appropriated funds. In that regard, for example, all spending under ARRA must be accomplished under unique account numbers.

    In other words, it is a mistake to think of Congress writing NIH a big check that NIH gets to figure out what to do with. Congress wrote a law and the NIH has no choice but to comply with the law. Also take note that the NIH money in ARRA is a little more than 1% of the total, so it is not reasonable to expect that Congress would put huge amounts of time and effort to make sure that the entire law was set up to make life as easy as possible for the NIH and its grantees. As mentioned above, people are working to figure out where existing NIH policies and procedures are consistent with this new law, where they can be used with tweaks and where there will have to be substantially new procedures. This is a big enough challenge as it is, but is further complicated by the strict time limits in the law. There simply isn't enough time to do a thorough analysis and get everyone briefed and trained before anything moves forward.

    The NCI director has also been quoted as saying ( in the Cancer Letter Sorry, its behind a paywall) that one of the favorite ideas around here, using the stimulus funds to make up for cuts in existing grants, is illegal under ARRA. Adding to the fun is the fact that the big appropriations bill was passed last night and should be signed shortly. Under a continuing resolution, most ICs spend pretty conservatively, so usually (but not always) when the actual appropriation is signed, money is available for make-up. Of course many of the same people that are trying to get all the ARRA work done would be the ones to do all the paperwork to restore money to grants, so don't be surprised if things are especially chaotic in the next few months.

  • scientista says:

    I've been hearing from faculty that they've gotten calls from program officers about ideas they've presented over the last couple of years to NIH but that, though well received, couldn't go anywhere under the previous administration. Some of those ideas made it into the omnibus but not because they are already funded or are guaranteed to go to the scientists who presented them. My sense is that the institutes are looking for any way possible to get this money out the door.
    Also, don't forget that ARRA is not about your science. It's about jobs. The science is just the means to that end.

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