In a major policy shift that is reverberating across the biomedical research community, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, says it plans to cap the number of grants an investigator can hold in order to free up funding for early-career scientists and those struggling to keep their labs afloat.
The new policy, announced yesterday by NIH Director Francis Collins, will limit the amount of support a single investigator can have to the equivalent of three bread-and-butter NIH R01 grants. About 6% of the investigator pool now has more than this level of support, and freeing up the money going to those awards could support 1600 new grants, NIH concludes. This will ensure “that the funds we are given are producing the best results from our remarkable scientific workforce,” Collins wrote.
The policy follows years of worrying, after NIH’s budget flattened in 2003, about cutthroat competition for funding and the need to stretch NIH’s budget to support more labs. NIH already has a 9-year-old policy that essentially gives extra points to grant proposals from early-career investigators that has helped stabilize the fraction of NIH grantees under age 45. But now, as those grants come up for renewal, midcareer scientists are a shrinking part of the NIH investigator pool. Congress, too, is concerned and in the recently passed 21st Century Cures Act pressed NIH to take steps to help early-career investigators.