Finding Funding for Rejected NIH Proposals

The National Institutes of Health joins forces with a tech company to launch a matchmaking program that aims to help investigators find secondary funding sources.

By | March 24, 2016

WIKIMEDIA, NIKLAS BILDHAUERLast year, just one in five grant proposals sent to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) received funding. But thanks to a new pilot project launched at the beginning of the month by technology company Leidos Life Sciences, NIH grant applicants may have an easier way to reuse rejected proposals and find financing for their research elsewhere. The company outlined its project in a statement published yesterday (March 23) in Science Translational Medicine.

“The Online Partnership to Accelerate Research (OnPAR) program, operated by Leidos Life Sciences, will act as a matchmaker between unfunded NIH applicants and private research funders,” wrote Mike Lauer, the NIH’s deputy director for extramural research, in a blog post. “Not only will this program benefit our applicants by helping connect them with potential funders, it allows the private funders to take advantage of NIH’s peer review system and keeps applicants from having to develop another application to seek funding elsewhere.”

According to Leidos, NIH grant applicants who fail to receive funding, but have scored within the 30th percentile where percentiles are used (or simply “well” in other cases), will be invited to participate in the OnPAR program. NIH-submitted abstracts, uploaded to the OnPAR website by the applicants themselves, will be sent to collaborating funding organizations if their research priorities overlap. The funders, which currently include organizations such as the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, can then select promising proposals at their discretion, and negotiate terms with the investigator.

“It’s novel and it’s clever,” Ray Dorsey of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York told Science. “NIH [applications] are just brutal to put together, and this is a chance to at least derive additional value from these things that otherwise kind of just die on people’s computers.”

However, attracting consistent funding interest may present a challenge, particularly among organizations that already receive many grant-worthy applications, William Chambers, senior vice president of extramural research and training at the American Cancer Society, told Science. “On our end—and this may well be the case for a lot of folks—we have more applications that we view as outstanding that we would like to fund than we have resources for,” Chambers said.

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Avatar of: Ken Pimple

Ken Pimple

Posts: 36

March 26, 2016

This sounds like a good idea, but some good ideas become bad ideas when they are instituionalized. In this case, consider how the NIH review process might be altered, most likely quietly and unplanned at first. OnPAR might well become the unofficial little league for health research. I can imagine other unfortunate scenarios, including NIH, researchers, universities, and other research institutions lessening their pressure on D.C. to fund health research adequately. 

Obviously all of the above is simply conjecture and might all be balderdash. But we must remember that human systems, like the NIH review process, are not static. When you put a teaspoon of sugar in a glass of water, your projected outcome is not likely to be far wrong. Make a change in a human system, and you're likely to be surprised.

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