NIH Fairy Grants Your Wish for Unlimited A0s

In a new Notice, the NIH went beyond reversing its decision to eliminate the A2 submission to allow, in theory, unlimited A0 submissions of the same proposal (hopefully improved with each submission).

Effective immediately, the NIH and AHRQ will accept a new (A0) application following an unsuccessful resubmission (A1) application. The subsequent new application need not demonstrate substantial changes in scientific direction compared to previously reviewed submissions, and must not contain an introduction to respond to the critiques from the previous review.

Although reviewers of this subsequent A0 might think it sounds familiar, they will not have the prior applications or summary statements and will be instructed to treat each A0 as new (and it will have a new grant number assigned).

The NIH and AHRQ will not assess the similarity of the science in the new (A0) application to any previously reviewed submission when accepting an application for review. Although a new (A0) application does not allow an introduction or responses to the previous reviews, the NIH and AHRQ encourage applicants to refine and strengthen all application submissions.

However, if it feels like Groundhog Day without hope of ever reaching Feb 3 or a competitive score, reviewers will also likely be encouraged to comment on unproductive repetitive submissions in the Additional Comments to Applicant.

Also, the new policy makes clear that PIs cannot resubmit the application as soon as they know their score and still cannot have overlapping proposals under review at the same time.

This means that the NIH will not review:

  • a new (A0) application that is submitted before issuance of the summary statement from the review of an overlapping resubmission (A1) application.

  • a resubmission (A1) application that is submitted before issuance of the summary statement from the review of the previous new (A0) application.

  • an application that has substantial overlap with another application pending appeal of initial peer review (see NOT-OD-11-101). {writedit: yet another reason not to appeal}

PIs should communicate with their PO about resubmission strategy. An ND (not discussed) A0 might do better just going back as an A0 again (skipping a written introduction as an A1). If the PI would do better to write the introduction to clarify/highlight improvements based on the A0 discussion, then an A1 might be the more strategic submission (plus the extra month may be useful). A Type 2 (competing renewal) would need to go in as an A1 to remain under consideration as a Type 2 (if/when subsequently submitted as A0, becomes Type 1 again and loses the Progress Report and competing renewal submission date/status). Some FOAs will limit whether an application can be submitted as an A1, too. You should definitely talk with your PO for advice. There will also be FAQs issued [update: a new Notice provides some clarification].

This strategy should bypass the prior “getting in line” philosophy of the A0-A1-A2 progression while allowing PIs to continue refining, improving, and submitting proposals from their evolving research program. As the Notice notes, this should particularly help early career investigators who have not had the time or resources to begin developing parallel research programs attractive to different ICs and SRGs. Let the writing and rewriting begin.


  1. JW said

    It will be very interesting to see how this plays out, as it will certainly change the strategy of NIH grant submission. One question though. The notice says “..will accept a new (A0) application following an unsuccessful resubmission (A1) application…” But will they accept a new A0 after an unsuccessful A0 without the A1? If my A0 is not discussed, then I’ll most likely want to resubmit it as another A0, but its not clear to me from the wording that the NIH will allow that.

    • writedit said

      Some clarity should be issued in forthcoming FAQs, but the major change here is that the NIH will stop checking A0s to ensure that they are “new” (i.e., “will not assess thesimilarity of the science in the new application to any previously reviewedsubmission when accepting an application for review”). The PI can decide whether to take advantage of the Introduction and later submission date with an A1, but CSR will not know about or check on any prior similar submissions. As always, your PO should be your go-to person for questions about your situation.

  2. laghs said

    I think this will only lead to disaster. I can’t imagine how NIH could possibly handle so many additional applications cycle after cycle. Grant success will be more like a raffle now. Competitive renewals will be in a great disadvantage in the future.

    • writedit said

      Well, if the quality of the repeatedly submitted applications does not improve, competitive competing renewals seeking to continue good science with a productive history will not be at any more of a disadvantage (since the chaff will just keep getting triaged) … but it will definitely be a burden on the review system. Even if reviewers provide comments suggesting that an application not be submitted again, the PI need not necessarily listen. I expect the policy will need to be fine-tuned to some degree to prevent an overload. We’ll see how they clarify its implementation, especially as commentary builds up (unanswered) at Rock Talk (

  3. 2Laroc said

    I have to agree with laghs. I already had enough worries for competitive renewal. There is no disincentive to not repeatedly put in grants that score low or not at all – I already know people who will be doing this. I think this puts a high burden on reviewers to sift through more and more grants seeking the gems. I do, however, think the intention is fair and many high quality grants are not funded simply due to the poor funding level. I would hope to see some contingency on this, aka only grants scored under a certain level are eligible – this might prevent the onslaught of recycled grants that this will cause.

    • SG said

      As one reviewer told me, “if someone keeps sending in the same crappy application, I will keep submitting the same critique.” I bet there will not be a huge surge in apps. And, if they are all crappy, they will be triaged. If they are good then they deserve to compete against the competitive renewals.

    • laghs said

      People will definitely do study section shopping to prevent the same unfriendly reviewers from seeing their applications again. I think this will eventually sink the whole review system by overloading it with more and more applications. I think this new policy will only turn grant success into a complete stochastic process. True gems will inevitably be buried deep down below the earth. I have one R01 for renewal next year, but now I don’t give any hope to it. Luckily got another R21 this month right before this news announcement. But maybe it is about time to give up my academic career before it is too late.

      • writedit said

        Well, unless other study sections include enough reviewers enthusiastic about seeing their proposed work done, the outcome will be the same (ND). And if the assignment request is inappropriate, the application will get sent back to the appropriate SRG. True gems will get discussed – including any of yours that fall in this category. I suspect early on there will be a lot of recycled A1s sent back as A0s, but I don’t think investigators will have the luxury of trying unsuccessful proposals too many times before the science grows stale or their tenure clock runs out. No need to give up.

  4. writedit said

    The good science is not limited to 2 or 3 chances, and reviewers aren’t thinking it’s this PI’s last chance or this lab will close without the A2 – or, I won’t get a chance to score this competitively again. While people can submit whatever schlock they want just to get some reviews (which is what people did in the old system since they often didn’t want to put much effort into just getting in line for A2 consideration), reviewers can reserve their best scores for the best science in each cycle, knowing it’s never any good science’s last chance. Of course, the problem remains that there is not enough money to fund all the good science (even with an ideal review system).

  5. writedit said

    As udated above, a new Notice provides some clarification on the application policy.

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