Arthur Riggs, Ph.D., director of the Beckman Research Institute, recently announced a new funding initiative for City of Hope investigators. Dubbed the Excellence Award program, it recognizes grant proposals submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that, upon review, were rated just under the funding cut-off limit.
The name of the new program reflects the quality of the grant submissions, according to Riggs. “It is recognized that there is no real, statistically valid difference between proposals that are just above and just below the funding line. In fact, because creative research involves some risk, it can be argued that proposals that are just below the line are likely to be proposing somewhat more creative research than those that are just over the line,” he said.
The program, funded by an anonymous donor, will award grants two to three times per year. Each grant of about $100,000 will cover one year of research.
The grants function as gap funding, providing interim monies while the awardees revise and resubmit their original proposals to the NIH.
“The idea behind this program is to provide seed money to get a project started, or keep it going, while waiting for NIH funding,” said Riggs. “The expectation is that funding often will be obtained from the NIH within the duration of the Excellence Award.” Because of this, awardees normally will not receive a second year of funding Also, Excellence Award monies not used by the investigator will be returned to the program so they can be used for future awardees, thus extending the life of the program, according to Riggs.
Riggs cites the flattening of the NIH budget over recent years as one factor motivating the Excellence Awards program. The NIH budget has been a matter of some concern recently, he noted. (See "Proposed 2007 NIH budget flattens.") The latest overall figure for fiscal year 2007 ($28.587 million) matches that of the previous year and once again fails to keep pace with inflation. The 2006 NIH budget was the first in 30 years to lag behind inflation.
This budget flattening coupled with funding reallocations occurring within the Institutes - including a 0.8 percent decrease in National Cancer Institute funds - means fewer grant proposals will be funded.
“The current situation obviously increases competition for available dollars, and fewer proposals will make the NIH cut,” said Ted Krontiris, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president for medical and scientific affairs. “While we’re working diligently with other institutions to promote the need for increased NIH funding, creative funding methods such as the Excellence Awards are welcome support for worthy projects in the interim.”
The Excellence Award program review committee consists of Riggs, Susan Kane, Ph.D., associate director of the Beckman Research Institute, and Richard Jove, Ph.D., deputy director of City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center. The committee considers unfunded NIH grant proposals receiving a score above the 20th percentile or its equivalent. Upon receiving a request for proposals, any City of Hope principal investigator may submit a proposal with a revised budget and the NIH review summary statement to the office of the Beckman Research Institute director. About 10 awards will be given each year.