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Facing the NIH Funding Crisis How Professional Societies Can Help

Robert Hromas, MD; Janis L. Abkowitz, MD; Armand Keating, MD
JAMA. 2012;308(22):2343-2344. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.45067.
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Success rates at obtaining National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding are at historic lows. Last January, the NIH posted an 18% success rate in 2011 for funding of R01 grants deemed scientifically meritorious by peer review.1 R01 grants are the major funding mechanism for individual laboratories and the major funding mechanism for investigator-initiated projects.1 The 18% success rate contrasts with rates of 22% in 2010, 25% to 32% in 1993-2003, and 45% to 58% in 1962-1966. The decrease in funding is a combination of many factors. There was an increase in the number of applications (a record 49 592 in 2011) and an increase in ongoing commitments to already funded research projects. For example, 75% of the $15.8 billion that the NIH spent on extramural grants went to existing projects in 2010.1 One contributing factor to the increase in applications is that mandated reductions in grant budgets require a given laboratory to have more grants to support the same research effort. Another factor is increasing biomedical inflation, which, given flat budgets, also means that more grants are required to support the equivalent effort.2 Nonetheless, biomedical science in the United States faces an unprecedented, dismal situation, with application success rates for NIH extramural research projects at an all-time low.

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