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NIH seeks feedback on cutback scenarios

The National Institutes of Health (NIH)—contending with a budget that has been relatively flat for seven years and might continue to stagnant or decline well into the future—is seeking feedback from its extramural researchers on potential cuts.

NIH has assembled information on several funding scenarios, including limiting the number of research project grant (RPG) awards held by a principal investigator (PI), reducing or limiting the size of awards, limiting the salaries of PIs, and restricting the amount of funds a PI can hold.

For example, it estimates that by limiting the number of awards per principal investigator (PI) to two, the agency could support an additional 956 competing research project grants, for a total of 10,411, with 22.6 per cent funding success rate.

In addition, the agency projects that limiting each PI’s total RPG support to $400,000 would produce savings of $7.1 billion and allow for approximately 4,400 additional competing RPG awards at average cost of $400,000.

NIH does not plan to rush into decisions. “The biomedical research enterprise is a partnership between NIH and the extramural community, and we don’t expect to make any changes to our processes without an in-depth discussion with you,” Sally Rockey, who directs the agency’s Office of Extramural Research, wrote in a 17 October blog post to the extramural research community.

“Your feedback is going to be vital as we move forward on what could be a bumpy terrain,” she concluded. “Hopefully, we can have smooth sailing with your creative ideas providing the wind!”

Meanwhile, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) has made three recommendations to NIH to ensure that as many investigators as possible receive funding.

Two of the proposals involve limiting the amount of funding awarded, by investigator or by a competitively-based sliding scale. The other involves reprioritising the agency’s overall research portfolio towards investigator-initiated RPGs.

“Given the complicated nature of the issue, it is unlikely that any proposed change will be accepted by all in the research community,” ASBMB said in a 25 October blog post. Groups representing research universities have already expressed opposition to limiting the amount of NIH funding for investigator salaries.

ASBMB argued that individuals in the research community must be willing to make some sacrifices to ensure the health of the biomedical research enterprise as a whole.