More on the OSU quashing of NIH-approved research

Dec 02 2009 Published by under Animals in Research, NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics

Following up my recent notes on the OSU situation (wherein the President decided to block a research project apparently at the behest of a wealthy donor) Speaking of Research has additional thoughts.

They also point out that the research is part of a much larger investment made by the state of Oklahoma and other funding sources that contributed over the past several years to construct state-of-the-art biosafety laboratory facilities at OSU. The facility was built with the express intent of supporting nonhuman primate research and under the condition that it would also be accessible to researchers at other Oklahoma institutions.

This makes this a much larger problem than the blocking of a single grant. The NIH frequently partners with the local University to build long-term infrastructure (yes, including major building renovations) with the intent of supporting a certain type of research. To accept this money and then refuse to subsequently conduct the intended research is a whole new level of bad on the part of the University.
If this is really the situation, that the baboon studies were a major part of the reason the original infrastructure award(s) were made...well, I think the NIH should be seeking cost recovery from OSU.
Additional Reading:
ERV; ERV again

UPDATE: I've done a little snooping around on CRISP and RePORTER because so far I have not seen any press reporting on the specific award or investigators involved in this debacle.
What I've located is U19AI062629, currently under the direction of K. Coggeshall. This project originally started September of 2004 under a J. Capra. The competing continuation of this project is dated 9/1/09. The abstract mentions nonhuman primate models so it is a decent chance this is the project under discussion.
The current iteration of this very large award ($2,986,968 per year total costs; overhead looks to be 55% for this award) appears to comprise 7 scientific components (including one each at U. Chicago and Boston University), three support Cores and an Educational component. Going from some of the comments on my prior post, apparently this latter needs to get it into gear!
I would wonder at this point if the OSU President was dumb enough to block the entire award. One assumes not and that he's just prevented the nonhuman primate experiments. Impossible to tell from the abstract how big of a part of the proposal those experiments were. Might be very minor or it could be that they've got themselves a model system that is translated across all of the components.
I will also draw you attention to the fact that this is a U-mechanism, not a P-mechanism. This means that the funding Institute (NIAID in this case) does more specifying in the solicitation-of-proposals phase and more monitoring/interfering during the conduct of the research. The solicitation for this current award is RFA-AI-08-014 (RePORTER links the solicitation to each award, in case you were wondering). Two things drew my interest:

All research activities must focus on human immunology and one or more of the NIAID Category A, B, or C Priority Pathogens, their toxins, or other emerging or re-emerging infectious diseases (see list at
Animal studies are allowed, but only if their relevance to the human disease under study is clearly described in the application, and only if experimental approaches are described in the Research Plan and the Project Milestones for translating the results into studies on human cells or tissues within the five-year funding period.

Putting this together I think we can deduce at least a nonspecific response to those who are perhaps wondering about the justification of the baboon studies. It had to be extraordinary, compared to most justifications in a standard model investigator-initiated proposal. As a general grantsmithing principle, if the solicitation warns you off of something it behooves you to pay attention. Your support (rationale, preliminary data and potential contribution) better be very strong indeed if you expect to be receiving excellent reviews. After all, the reviewers are supposed to determine if the proposal fits the solicitation- this is why the announcements are linked to the application. If the nonhuman primate component were at all weak, the reviewers would have had plenty of reason, nay responsibility, to criticize the application.
Furthermore this is a U-mechanism. Meaning that Program staff at NIAIA would have every excuse in the world to selectively excise the nonhuman primate experiments even if they really wanted to fund the rest of the proposal. They can do this for any grant, actually. It is reasonably common in the larger Center and Program Project mechanisms for one part to get hammered and for negotiations between Program and Project Director (the PI of BigMechanisms) to excise the weak component. But this is a U! Program micro-management is built right in. And the program staff overseeing this are very likely the same ones who wrote that language about animal studies into the RFA.
So without knowing a thing about the actual science contained in the proposal as it pertains to nonhuman primate models, we can conclude that something greater than the usual high burden of proof for the validity of these studies was present in the proposal for this project.

UPDATE 2: More specifics from The Scientist. Apparently it is just one subproject (direct costs $200,000) that focused on the baboon model. Importantly this also notes that the IACUC voted to approve the project but was waiting to hear from the BioSafety Committee when the President acted. Thus no formal approval letter was ever issued. Keep your eyes sharp for allegations that the IACUC never approved the project, eh?

6 responses so far

  • Orac says:

    Agree 100%. Backing out in this way would be a breach of contract if that was the reason the NIH made those infrastructure awards.

  • DSKS says:

    "Agree 100%. Backing out in this way would be a breach of contract if that was the reason the NIH made those infrastructure awards."
    I was going to query the legal aspect of this. What are the usual contractual obligations in play here inre funding these kinds of high level and expansive projects, and what are the normal consequences of reneging on those obligations?

  • Katharine says:

    Out of sheer curiosity, if this is with the NIAID (Mom works for them; I will never get a penny from NIAID because they're not in my field - more of a NINDS and NIMH woman), I might see if Mom can investigate or ask one of her friends there to investigate what might be going on about this. I will probably not find out, of course, because it is confidential, but they can investigate the ramifications of this regarding funding.

  • Katharine says:

    Oh. Bioterrorism.
    Yup, that's NIAID.
    I don't know if NIAID already knows about this, but I would hope someone contacts them soon, because they are not gonna be happy.
    As I said, this deserves some attention from NIAID and I'm wondering if it might be a good idea to forward these blog posts on (anonymity intact, of course) to some contacts there.

  • Rugosa says:

    Yes, indeed, NIAID will take it quite seriously that a funded project is being yanked to please a private donor. The univ president is jeopardizing the reputation of OSU and the careers of his faculty. Not to mention all that juicy overhead money!
    Even if OSU managed to keep this quiet - which they obviously haven't - it would come out in progress reports that the funded research wasn't done. Very bad - future funding for the project would surely be dropped, and the univ probably would have to pay back funds already issued. Depending on the baboon project's impact on other projects on the grant, that funding also could be adjusted. Downward.

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