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Economic Over-Stimulation.

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Economic Over-Stimulation?
The news of additional NIH funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has been greeted with
tremendous enthusiasm by biomedical researchers.1 Grant
processing offices in Universities across the US are gearing
up for a record number of submissions to NIH, many with
plans to hire new staff to meet the demand. With deadlines
looming, some institutions have reportedly hired scientific
writers to assist investigators with their grants. Many investigators are preparing multiple submissions in response to the
various funding categories. The rush is on.
It is gratifying to see biomedical research figuring prominently in the economic stimulus package. It’s now old news
that the Department of Health and Human Services is receiving $11.1 billion, at least $10.4 billion of which will end
up at the NIH and another $300 million at the Agency for
Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).1 This 25% increase in the NIH budget, from $29 billion to $39 billion,
benefits the scientific community tremendously and is likely
to produce important returns both immediately — in terms
of supporting salaries and economic stability — and longterm, with future advances in health. Thank you, Congress
and, in particular, thank you, Arlen Specter for pushing this
Although the new NIH funding is thrilling when considered from a high level, its impact on individual investigators will be more muted. The funds are spread out over
multiple Institutes and mechanisms, with dilution at each
step. For example, a substantial piece — approximately $1.8
billion — is set aside for new buildings, renovations, and
shared instrumentation.2
Of relevance to the Annals community, the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is receiving an additional $400 million to be disbursed over the
next 2 years, which is a 25% increase in funding over last
year’s $1.5 billion budget. However, at least half of these
funds are expected to be allocated to grants already submitted and reviewed, taking some of those that received scores in
the 11th to 25th percentile range (the tier above the current
funding line) and converting them into 2-year awards.3 The
last eligible round for this mechanism will be considered by
the NINDS Council in September, corresponding to a February grant submission date. Thus, that train has already left
the station. Administrative supplements to existing NINDSsponsored grants is another mechanism of support rejuvenated by the ARRA, but the window of opportunity is
closing for these awards as well.
NINDS is also participating in the Challenge Grants, 2year grants for a maximum of $1 million in total costs tar-
geted to specific research topics.4 The Office of the NIH Director has set aside $200 million for the mechanism, which
sounds like a lot at first but isn’t when one considers that
there are over 500 challenge topics specified. If most proposers come in near the funding ceiling, only 200 awards
would be made, leaving more than half the topics unfunded.
Furthermore, many institutions are expecting over 100 applications for this mechanism, so there could be tens of thousands submitted nationally. Even if the NIH institutes and
AHRQ double the funds available, the funding line could
still be below the 5th percentile, much more competitive than
for standard R01s. Another similar mechanism, the Grand
Opportunity Awards, has $200 million set aside but for
grants exceeding $1 million over 2 years.5 NINDS is again
participating and competition is also likely to be very stiff.
New investigators need not inquire. The NINDS has
made clear that investigators who have not previously had an
R01 or equivalent will not be eligible for funding of 2-year
awards above the prior funding line and probably should not
apply for Challenge Grants.3 New investigators are normally
funded above the prevailing pay line, with funding sometimes occurring at percentiles twice that for more experienced
investigators. The 2-year awards from the ARRA funds
would eliminate this advantage for new investigators. After
only a short period to establish a research program, these new
investigators would be thrown into a particularly competitive pool. Thus, the NINDS policy is meant to protect new
investigators, who should be applying for R01s now, while
many other researchers are distracted elsewhere.
The ARRA funds are intended to stimulate the domestic
economy by creating and retaining jobs in the US. Thus, in
most cases, stimulus funds should not be spent abroad. This
unfortunately excludes many worthy projects from investigators residing outside of the US from the upcoming competition.
The funds also require substantially more detailed reporting. Spending will be followed carefully for job creation and
to prevent delays. Institutions are preparing for the extra burden.
Two years from now, we may be at a crisis unless higher
levels of NIH funding are renewed. A larger pool of funded
investigators will all be running out of funds in 2010 and will
be desperate to continue their research programs. The rebound could be staggering. Having examples of clear successes wrought by the new NIH funds will be crucial in
assuring Congressional support at continued high levels.
In the California Gold Rush, most of the hundreds
of thousands of new immigrants to the State made no money
© 2009 American Neurological Association
Published by Wiley-Liss, Inc., through Wiley Subscription Services
from gold. Nonetheless, the event stimulated the economy
in many other ways, with those providing the provisions,
equipment, and transportation prospering the most. The infrastructure laid the foundation for years of further growth
and innovation. Let’s hope the same foundation is built with
the new ARRA funding. Without careful consideration and
planning for 2 years from now, the investment may end up
looking like a temporary movie set rather than a solid foundation for continuous growth.
1. Lindsey H. Biomedical research funding a vital part of the
economic stimulus plan. Ann Neurol. 2009;65:A9-11
2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
NINDS and the Recovery Act. Vol. 2009, 2009
3. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Director's Message - NINDS and the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Vol. 2009, 2009
4. National Institutes of Health. Recovery Act Limited Competition: NIH Challenge Grants in Health and Science Research
(RC1). Vol. 2009, 2009
5. National Institutes of Health. Recovery Act Limited Competition for NIH Grants: Research and Research Infrastructure
“Grand Opportunities” (RC2). Vol. 2009, 2009
S. Claiborne Johnston MD, PhD and Stephen L. Hauser MD
Αnnals of Neurology
Vol 65 No 4 April 2009
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