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NHLBI Research and Policy Update
Number 66  

Message from Dr Elizabeth G. Nabel
Message from NHLBI Director: Rebalancing Success Rates

November 23, 2009

Message from Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D., Director, NHLBI

NHLBI Funding Strategies for Translating NIH Peer Review Changes into Funding Policies

  • Paylines for A0 (new submission), A1, and A2 (resubmission) applications

  • Early-Stage and New Investigator status is determined at the time of initial submission, and does not change with resubmissions

Dear Colleagues:
As you know, the NIH has decided to phase out the second resubmission (A2) of research project (R01) applications.  This decision stemmed, in part, from analysis of NHLBI data which showed that over 75% of A0s, which scored below the fundable payline were eventually funded as A1s or A2s, and that study sections tended to score A0s less favorably and A1 and A2s more favorably. As a result, many institutes, including the NHLBI, were funding fewer A0s and increasing numbers of A1s and A2s.  The need to resubmit applications creates a lot of extra work for applicants, study section members, and NIH staff. The Enhancing Peer Review Study goal was to fund more applications at the A0 or A1 stage and minimize the need to resubmit.  The Enhancing Peer Review Study recommended that the peer review process focus less on “mentoring” improvements in grant proposals and encourage investigators to submit their best grant at the A0 or A1 stage.

The NHLBI  and other Institutes and Centers were then directed to tailor strategies for funding R01 applications towards restoring historic funding levels of A0 applications-- i.e.,  to fund more applications at the A0 stage, and avoid unnecessary resubmissions.  We conducted a thorough analysis of prior NHLBI-application submission data and presented these data to the NHLBI’s Advisory Council in October 2008.  The Council recommended that  the NHLBI should prioritize funding highly meritorious A0 submissions and fund highly meritorious A1 and A2 applications at somewhat lower paylines beginning with fiscal year (FY) 2010 (October 1, 2009 – September 30, 2010)
The NHLBI communicated its plans and rationale to the NHLBI grantees.  Due to a confluence of factors – new scoring system, phasing out of A2 submissions and a flat NIH budget, we have a “perfect storm” which requires some modifications.

Congress has not approved a FY2010 budget for the NIH, so we are operating on a “continuing resolution” (CR) at FY2009 levels.  We hope to receive a budget appropriation soon, and then we can make adjustments to the current FY09 operating plans.  Until then, we must operate at a more conservative level. I want to emphasize that all grant applications that come to NHLBI’s Advisory Council meetings for FY2010 funding (October 2009, February 2010, June 2010) and are not funded at that time are held until the end of the FY, in the case where the paylines improve and applications which meet the more favorable payline are funded.  Grant applications from October Council are still being processed. We intend for Notice of Grant Awards to go out within the next few weeks.  We posted initial payline targets for A0s, A1s, and A2s on our web site, and we heard feedback from you that the differences between the paylines for A0s, A1s, and A2s were too draconian. We have listened to your concerns, and we agree.

Therefore, we are recommending that we phase in the new NHLBI policy in a more gradual manner through FY 2012.  This will allow us to work with A1s and A2s that are already in the “pipeline” as we know that many of your applications have essentially been placed in a “queue” by the study section.

A0 grant applications submitted after January 25, 2009, will not be permitted to submit an A2 resubmission, according to NIH policy.  All grant applications eligible for an A2 revision are already in the system as a current A0 or A1.  The last A2 revision application will be accepted in January 2011 and will come to June 2011 Council.  Hence, FY2010 and FY2011 will be the most “delicate” in terms of balancing A0s, A1s, and A2s. While we will have separate paylines for A0s, A1s, and A2s in FY 2010 in order to meet the NIH goal of obtaining more comparable success rates for all applications, our goal is to fund at least as many R01 applications in FY 2010 as we did in FY2009, while also beginning to minimize the number of resubmissions.
I want to clarify the NHLBI plans for Early-Stage Investigators (ESIs) and new investigators (NIs).  The NHLBI considers Early-Stage Investigator (ESI) status of applicants determined at the time of the initial A0 grant submission.  If you would have qualified for ESI status at the time of your A0 application, the ESI status carries through to the A1 and A2 revision.  Similarly, if you would have qualified for new investigator (NI) status at your A0 submission when the NHLBI had a payline advantage for NIs, your NI status also carries through to the A1 and A2 revision.  I have asked the NHLBI staff to ensure that none of you who qualify for these payline advantages are missed.

The NHLBI remains committed to supporting the research careers of ESIs and will continue to provide them with payline advantages for new competing (type 1) R01s and first-renewal (type 2) R01s.
I encourage you and your institutional staff to keep current with the significant changes in NIH peer review by visiting the Enhancing Peer Review Web site.  We will continue to post all policy changes in a timely manner on the NHLBI web site and disseminate them in relevant professional journals.  As always, we welcome your comments, feedback and suggestions at
We will continue to do our best to support your research and your career development.
With best wishes,
Betsy Nabel

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