NIH Challenge Grants

Update: The NIH has released the Challenge Grant RFA and created a Website for the NIH Challenge Awards in Health and Science Research. More info here (including comments), plus Kington’s vision for ARRA spending, and a 12-page narrative template with additional advice is also available for download. Likely review timeline and scenario noted here.

Update: From the conference report: “The conference agreement adopts the Senate guidance that, to the extent possible, the $800,000,000 retained in the Office of the Director shall be used for purposes that can be completed within two years; priority shall be placed on short-term grants that focus on specific scientific challenges, new research that expands the scope of ongoing projects, and research on public and international health priorities. Bill language is included to permit the Director of NIH to use $400,000,000 of the funds provided in this account for the flexible research authority authorized in section 215 of Division G of P.L. 110-161.”

Get ready to be stimulated. House Bill (American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009) includes $3.5B for the NIH. Nature describes the distribution as

$1.5 billion would be for research at NIH centres over two years; $1.5 billion for building grants at university research facilities; and $500 million for construction on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

To me, that first pot of money sounds intramural. But according to Science, no – much more encouraging for us on the outside:

Biomedical researchers will have the chance to apply for quick-hit, $1 million challenge grants as part of the funding that the National Institutes of Health is slated to receive under the proposed economic recovery package introduced yesterday by Democrats in the House of Representatives. Each institute and center at NIH would be asked to identify “real scientific challenges that they are facing,” according to Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington. “Scientists would apply through a relatively quick process, to receive $500,000 a year for 2 years, to make progress in designated areas.” The grants could be extended for a longer time, Kington says, “depending on funding.”

… To avoid the boom-and-bust cycle that NIH has experienced in the past decade, half the money would be disbursed this year and the other half in 2010. “Funds will be allocated by competitive peer review to universities nationwide, as is current NIH funding, and to NIH intramural research,” explains a report accompanying the bill.

AAAS separately offers an analysis of all science R&D funding in the draft bill (also summarized in the Science Insider blog). More recently, Science has published a table comparing the stimulus package outlays for the House and Senate versions for scientific research.

Without their insider info, Science would be hard-pressed to interpret the Congressional press release about the bill as involving such an exciting means for distributing the pork, I mean, stimulus:

    • National Institutes of Health Biomedical Research: $2 billion, including $1.5 billion for expanding good jobs in biomedical research to study diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, and heart disease – NIH is currently able to fund less than 20% of approved applications – and $500 million to implement the repair and improvement strategic plan developed by the NIH for its campuses.
    • University Research Facilities: $1.5 billion for NIH to renovate university research facilities and help them compete for biomedical research grants. The National Science Foundation estimates a maintenance backlog of $3.9 billion in biological science research space. Funds are awarded competitively.

So … let’s see what comes out the other end of the sausage making machinery.



  1. whimple said

    My strong suspicion is that what will generally happen is that well-funded labs will become even more well-funded. Amount of wealth at NIH is not nearly the issue that lumpy distribution of wealth is. What I really don’t understand is why the NIH hasn’t acted sooner to fix this. They keep making noises about things like “minimum percent effort” on grants etc., but then don’t implement these policies.

    This is indeed a likely scenario, especially given the rapid turnaround time that will be required for submissions and the incredible faith reviewers will have to place in applicants in achieving the impossible. – writedit

  2. BB said

    The NIH needs $500 million for building in Bethesda? Where, pray tell?

  3. writedit said

    Science has a table comparing outlays for science in the House and Senate versions of the stimulus bill (NIH & NSF $ amounts below), though these numbers could change over the weekend as Obama works with Senate republicans to get a little buy-in …. though I suspect any dollar shuffling will occur elsewhere.


    House: Total: $3.5 billion
    $1.5 billion for extramural research, $1.5 billion for extramural facilities,
    and $500 million for on-campus buildings.

    Senate: Total: $3.5 billion
    $2.7 billion split between director’s office and the institutes, $500 million
    for on-campus buildings, and $300 million for extramural instrumentation.


    House: Total: $3 billion
    $2 billion for research, $100 million for education, $400 million for new facilities,
    $300 million for instrumentation, and $200 million for academic renovation.

    Senate: Total: $1.4 billion
    $1 billion for research, $50 million for education, $150 million
    for new facilities, and $200 million for instrumentation.

  4. pinus said

    2 years, 1 million $.

    If they want to disburse it in 2009, does that mean there is going to be a RFA put out in a month, with a deadline of one month?

    I guess I should start writing something so I am ready?

    Exactamundo. Of course, you won’t know what the priorities are, but I guess you could assume “Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, and heart disease” are among them. Plan, too, for something you can accomplish in 2 years. Although Kington suggests renewal funding could be possible, I assume this would be via traditional competitive mechanisms since, without knowing the budget outlook, the NIH cannot commit to supporting all these new projects over the long-term, at least not at this challenge level. -writedit

  5. pinus said

    I envision this being a insane money grab. A friend of mine said he would write one, and have every research track ‘faculty’ in the lab write one as well. I can only imagine the number of grant applications that they will receive. And $1 million over two years…I wonder how they would feel about equipment, or perhaps some fancy model organisms being generated. Do they just want lots of microarrays? ugh!

  6. […] in two years. The agency will add supplemental funding to existing grants and fund new “challenge grants” aimed at thorny […]

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: