Challenge Grant Review Process & Timeline

Update: CSR has confirmed in the May Peer Review Notes that they will use the 2-phase editorial board approach for the RC1s, as noted in the comment below.

NIH has posted a tentative timeline for the Challenge Grant review process, which will likely follow the Transformative path of a two-stage editorial board review (so assume Stage 1 reviews completed in June, probably via IAR, with editorial boards discussing applications in July):

NIH is using an innovative peer review format—editorial board reviews—to help identify research that has the potential to transform biomedicine. Two groups of reviewers play key roles: specialized experts assess the applications for scientific merit and submit written critiques; experienced reviewers with a broad understanding of the science further critique the applications. This second group functions as the editorial board and meets face-to-face or electronically to discuss the initial assessments and score the applications by focusing on their overall significance and impact.

CSR is using this type of review to assess new Transformative R01 applications in an effort to support extraordinarily innovative, high-risk, original or unconventional research projects that hold promise to revolutionize a broad area of biomedical or behavioral research: Editorial board reviewers will conduct an initial review and select a reasonable number for further review.

CSR initiated an evaluation of the quality and effectiveness of editorial board reviews in spring 2008. The pilot involved a range of SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) and Bioengineering Research Partnership applications. Preliminary data show that editorial board reviews may improve the quality of reviews for complex, multidisciplinary applications.

A majority of reviewers, some 64%, said they would choose this type of review for their own applications; of the experts who submitted written critiques considered by the editorial boards, about 38% said they would prefer these reviews for their own applications.

No matter what, you’ll receive back critiques and criteria scores (and an impact score if your application is “discussed”), which will be useful for converting RC1s into R21s or R01s as appropriate … or not if the comments and scores suggest you not pursue this line of work.



  1. BB said

    Thanks for the tip. I am nearly done. Nearly.

    Good luck! I’d recommend stating very clearly in the cover letter the type of experts you would like to review your proposal. SROs are not going to have much time for this, so the more help (short of naming names), the better. I’d also recommend noting that you’ve communicated with the appropriate PO (assuming this is the case), particularly if said PO encouraged the submission of your application. -writedit

  2. BB said

    Knew I forgot something, thanks! And yep, did speak with PO before a single keystroke was made. Good points, all.

  3. ama said

    I’m having trouble finding anything else relating to this (an announcement or other release) or to the likely use of the T-R01-style review. Am I missing some important source, or is this an inside job?
    thanks for the ongoing great info!

    Last Feb, Cheryl Kitt indicated the editorial board route was under consideration, and recent informal communications with others at the NIH seem to confirm this. The Challenge Grant FAQ clearly states that standing study sections will not be used.

    Not that the actual procedure matters in terms of grantsmanship. The take-home message I wanted to convey is the tremendously compressed review time frame, such that the pressure is on for you all to make an extraordinarily compelling case for your projects and their economic impact as clearly and succinctly and with as little burden to the reviewer as possible. – writedit

  4. vcuresearcher said

    Looks like first round will be mail review due back in early June.

  5. RGP said

    One of my colleagues said that the first round results will be available in time to submit for the June deadline if you didn’t make it to the second level of review. Have you heard the same? From the review timeline that writedit posted, that does not seem likely….

    No, first-round reviews are due June 5, the same day new R01 submissions are due, and even if all scores were posted prior to the June 16 submission for R21s, the PI would need to first administratively withdraw the Challenge Grant prior to submitting the converted application (the RC1 would still technically be under review). I am hoping the NIH will release a notice providing guidance on this issue. Otherwise, I am sure many converted applications will show up in June, further burdening CSR with the need to check for hundreds or perhaps even thousands of duplicate submissions. – writedit

  6. D said

    WritEdit is, as usual, correct. I can’t imagine that anything will be released until the whole review is done. That would entail SROs and POs making final decisions about which apps are streamlined and which are not. That is always left up to the main review panel.

    In any case, the way the computer system works scores can not be released until the committee has finished meeting and scored all of the apps. SSs can’t be released until the scores are released. Plan on submitting for the Oct/Nov deadline.

  7. ama said

    Anybody heard anything (even rumors!) about how many RC1 apps were submitted? We certainly encountered a VERY sluggish, and I’m dying to know what the total number of RC1’s was…

    Well, the final tally won’t be known until the 5-day error correct window passes. However, my intel suggests that as of yesterday, more than 10K had been accepted, with over 4K still in the error correction queue. So … don’t spend that money just yet. And do NOT start converting your RC1 into an R21 or R01 for June … October, sure. Hopefully, if nothing else, the NIH can take the loud message sent by this overwhelming response to Congress as very clear and easily understood justification for an increase in their base appropriation. – writedit

  8. writedit said

    In the latest Peer Review Notes, CSR has at last confirmed the use of the 2-stage editorial review board approach for RC1 applications (over 22K received):

    CSR will review these applications in two-phase, ―editorial-board‖ reviews. Over 15,000 extra reviewers in the specialized fields have been recruited to do the first phase reviews. Their mail reviews and the applications will be further assessed by one of about 30 study sections made up of experienced scientists who will re-review the science but also focus on overall significance and impact.

    Overall, CSR typically reviews 16,000 applications with the help of about 8,000 reviewers in each of the three main yearly review rounds. This round, CSR will rely on over 23,000 reviewers to assess about 36,000 applications.

    … including ~1600 competitive revision applications.

  9. […] 2009 at 3:59 pm · Filed under Funding Opportunities, NIH Advice, Research News I’ve said this before, and not that I expected any of you to try to sneak a recycled RC1 as an R01 or R21 in June, but […]

  10. K. Srivenugopal said

    Please read (Reminder and Clarification of NIH Policies on Similar, Identical, or Essentially Identical Applications, Submission of Applications Following RFA Review, and Submission of Applications with a Changed Activity Code ). There is lot of info here on resubmitting RC1 grants.

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