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NIH to enact new Grant Support Index

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The National Institutes of Health has announced that they are proposing several steps to assure that NIH is maximizing the impact of public dollars spent through the implementation of the Grant Support Index.

Background:
NIH has recently implemented a few policies to improve the distribution of their limited funds. Some of these policies include new opportunities for early investigator researchers, and the new R35 mechanism. Even with these recent changes, the distribution of awards is still highly skewed, as 10% of the researchers receive 40% of the available funds. NIH has been reviewing their numbers and has determined that there is a loss of efficiency and diminishing returns by researchers when they have more than 3 grants. They have also determined that 65% of investigators currently have one R01 (or less), causing concern for long term stability. Most recently, NIH has been discussing the Research Commitment Index (RCI) (see here and here), but they are now planning to implement the Grant Support Index (GSI).

GSI Plan:
NIH will implement a new plan to cap the total NIH grant support provided to each individual PI. This will be based on the Grant Support Index (GSI), a number calculated by tallying the number of “points” each investigator has. There is not yet an official point system, but right now the foundation they are starting with is that 3 single PI R01 awards equals 21 points. The point value of each award will be determined by: the mechanism, the complexity of the grant, and the size of the grant. The index is not calculated on the dollar amount of the award. PI effort is also not included in the calculation. Points will be applied only to the PI and Co-PI roles. This calculation will be done only with NIH supported grants, and will not include other grants (NSF, etc). The GSI will be calculated by NIH and made available to each researcher in their eRA Commons account. Should a PI have more than 21 points and apply for a new proposal, or if the proposal would put them over 21 points, they will be required to submit a written plan explaining how they will adjust their awarded grants to meet the cap.

Feedback and Implementation:
NIH is currently seeking input on the formula calculation, and notes on other nuances that should be taken into account. For example, they are currently weighing how to measure collaborative grants with multiple PIs fairly, in order to not discourage researchers from coordinating on these types of projects. It was noted that there may be some small differences in implementation among the Institutes, but these would be minor. Feedback is requested through the Open Mike blog, and they may soon offer other means of communication as well. When the GSI is phased in, no grants will be defunded. The phase-in will occur with the renewals process, should a PI apply for a renewal of their grant, and for new proposals beginning with the September 2017 deadlines (and May/June 2018 awards). NIH estimates that 6% of investigators will be affected by the GSI cap. With the amount of funding freed (approximately $500-650 million) through the GSI, NIH estimates 1500 - 1600 new awards will be available to broaden the pool of investigators. NIH has a goal to use these funds to enhance funding at all stages of career and they recognize the funding disparity that currently exists.