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U.S. National Institutes of Health backs off funding limits for researchers

Agency instead creates initiative to support early- and midcareer scientists

by Andrea Widener
June 19, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 25

Facing a storm of criticism, the National Institutes of Health has abandoned a plan that would have limited the number of grants any one scientist could get.

The Grant Support Index, which NIH rolled out last month, used a formula to determine whether an individual investigator could receive additional NIH funding. NIH leaders said it would effectively limit the number of grants any one scientist could get to three at one time.

Complaints quickly came rolling in that the plan would hinder collaboration, work against those running complex trials or research networks, and discourage scientists from overseeing training or infrastructure grants. Another concern was that the methodology was not ready for prime time.

“We have heard you,” NIH Director Francis Collins said last week. “We are shifting the approach quite substantially.”

NIH had originally acted out of concern that early- and midcareer scientists were being hurt by the hypercompetitive grant funding environment. So rather than limit funding overall, the agency has instead said it will specifically drive more funding into support for early- and midcareer scientists, who have found it increasingly difficult to get grants renewed.

The Next Generation Researchers Initiative will start with $210 million this year and eventually ramp up to $1.1 billion in dedicated funds. It will steer support specifically toward early- and midcareer scientists, including through existing funding mechanisms, such as the National Institute of General Medical Science’s Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award. (NIGMS funds more chemistry than any other institute.) And the agency will continue to track funding data to make sure the new approach is working.


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