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If you're unfamiliar with the world of R&D contracts, a little context may build your enthusiasm when you see solicitations well-suited to your scientific strengths. Many investigators find a contract opportunity that ties in well with their scientific expertise.
We support many academic investigators under R&D contracts. Most large research institutions should have experience with federal government contracts as well.
Read on for what contracts are, how they differ from grants, and how to analyze whether a solicitation is right for you.
What Are Contracts and When Are They Used?
Contracts describe a defined government requirement for a product or service with specific deliverables and deadlines, and work done under a contract requires direct oversight by NIAID staff.
For example, we use R&D contracts to address specific programmatic needs, such as clinical trials under networks, product development, statistical and data coordinating centers, and development of animal models and product testing. While “research” can be acquired under a contract, the research goals and objectives are clearly stated up front in the request for proposals (RFP).
In contrast, grants are more freeform because they allow you to go where the science leads you within your terms of award.
When we choose whether an opportunity should be a contract solicitation or a grant opportunity, we consider the scientific need and legal requirements.
Contracts, Grants—What's the Difference?
The table below covers the major contrast points between contracts and grants. If you’re unfamiliar with the terminology, use our Glossary of Funding and Policy Terms and Acronyms.
Request for proposals or broad agency announcement (BAA).
Request for applications (RFA) or program announcement (PA).
The contractor usually has the right to data first produced in the performance of the contract.
If you want even more detail on any of the concepts mentioned above, check out our Standard Operating Procedures. Or for an overview of the R&D contracting process and key terminology, see About NIAID Research and Development Contracts on our Contracts portal.
So let's suppose you're reading the Extramural R&D Solicitations list and spot a solicitation relevant to your interests. Now what?
First, weigh these factors:
If you aren't sure or want more advice, check with your business office. Your organization has probably handled contracts before and may have special rules for you to follow.
Also, you may be able to find a colleague who can share insights based on his or her experiences with R&D contracts.
Or if you have questions specific to that opportunity, you can ask the NIAID Office of Acquisitions contract specialist listed in the solicitation.
Note that unlike the list of contacts for a grant opportunity, you should not try to contact anyone in our program divisions for advice before the award stage. There are regulations that dictate who can communicate with offerors or potential offerors.
Even if you end up deciding a solicitation is not for you, knowing how your organization handles contracts and what factors to watch for when considering future opportunities will benefit you in the long run.
Examples of R&D Contract Opportunities
As food for thought, here are several expired solicitations or potential future solicitations we thought might be appropriate for an academic investigator.
Note regarding concepts: Though approved by NIAID’s Council in January 2012, these may or may not become a solicitation later. Read more about Concepts: Potential Opportunities.
Watch Extramural R&D Solicitations for new opportunities and to see if and when the concepts listed above become solicitations.
HIV/AIDS in older people poses unique challenges, some of which are the focus of three recent funding opportunities on multidisciplinary studies of HIV/AIDS and aging. Though the trio have the same topic, they use different activity codes: R01, R03, and R21.
Your research could fit the bill if you propose studying HIV infection or treatment, HIV-associated conditions, or biobehavioral or social factors associated with HIV/AIDS in older adults.
To be competitive, your project should cover several bases, such as having a clinical orientation, including geriatric outcomes, and involving people who span age 50 and above.
As for topics, here are a few examples of suitable research areas:
Note: NIAID will not accept applications proposing clinical trials. It's best to discuss your idea with an NIAID program officer before you apply.
The opportunities have multiple due dates through April 2015, the first being August 7, 2012.
For complete details on the opportunities, read the R01, R03, and R21 program announcements. And to learn more about R03 and R21 grants, see our Small and Exploratory/Developmental Research Grants SOP.
Did our April 25, 2012, article "Get On Board with U.S.-China Collaborative Research" whet your appetite for collaborating with Chinese investigators?
You might want to check out answers to some common questions our staff have received in response to the related funding opportunity announcement.
Go to Questions for Individual Opportunities in our Peer Review at NIAID questions and answers. If that doesn't cover what you need, email one of NIAID's agency contacts listed in the April 4, 2012, Guide notice.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently announced their latest inductees—eleven of whom are NIAID grantees.
For a full list of new NAS members, check out News from the National Academy of Sciences.
So far this year, the NIH Human Embryonic Stem Cell Registry has added almost a dozen new cell lines investigators can use for NIH-funded research. This takes the total number on the list to more than 150.
Recent additions include UM11-1PGD that carries a mutation for Charcot Marie Tooth disease Type IA and HUES PGD 16, which was derived from an embryo affected with genetic mutations that cause Huntington's Disease.
As an NIAID researcher, you may want to check out not-so-recently approved lines like Endeavour-2 (for projects on treating diabetes) and HUES 9 (for research that will lead to creating pancreatic islets that contain ß cells for transplanting into diabetics).
If you have a cell line you want NIH to approve, read How to Get a Human Embryonic Stem Cell Line Approved. To see which lines are awaiting the green light, go to Submitted hESC Lines Pending Review on NIH's Stem Cell Information site.
In a show of faith to promote economic growth, the Obama administration recently released the National Bioeconomy Blueprint.
The Blueprint outlines steps agencies will take to stimulate the economy through bioeconomics, i.e., research and innovation in the biosciences.
The initiative will address challenges in health, food, energy, and the environment by “strengthening bioscience research as a major driver of American innovation and economic growth.”
In addition to guiding federal agencies, the Blueprint promotes partnerships with private-sector entities and provides innovative incentives, such as prizes, to support high-risk research.
For more details, read the National Bioeconomy Blueprint and National Bioeconomy Blueprint Released.
Here's news from around NIH.
We Posted Our T32 Payline. For FY 2012, we're now funding T32 grants up to an overall impact score of 16. See NIAID Paylines.
Two New IACUC Workshops in June. NIH announced more workshops on institutional animal care and use committees (IACUC) from June 13 to 14, 2012, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. One session provides basic IACUC training, while the other explores more advanced topics. Read the May 4, 2012, Guide notice for details.
Sign Up for June's NIH Regional Seminar. Registration is still open for the NIH Regional Seminar on Program Funding and Grants Administration, held in Washington, D.C. from June 20 to 22. This is the last seminar of 2012. For more information, read the May 15, 2012, Guide notice.
We want to throw out two familiar words related to the AIDS 2012 conference from July 22-27 in Washington, D.C.: "show" and "tell."
Show us you're there by visiting the NIH exhibit, with seven kiosks and a crew of NIH staff ready to answer your questions.
And, if you're one of our grantees, tell your program officer ASAP about any accepted session abstracts, posters, or newsworthy items related to the conference.
We'll consider publicizing your work, e.g., by highlighting your research results in one of the daily press conferences or promoting your work to conference attendees. Don't miss this chance to get some extra publicity!
Feel free to send us a question at email@example.com. After responding to you, we may include your question in the newsletter, incorporate it into the NIAID Research Funding site, or both.
"Under what circumstances can I start spending money on my grant before I get my Notice of Award?"—anonymous reader
For most grants, your institution can allow you to start spending money up to 90 days before your grant's official start date for research within your approved aims.
However, it does so at its own risk because NIAID has not yet made your award and does not increase your budget if the award can't cover the money you've already spent.
That said, with your institution’s permission, you can use its money to cover costs of personnel, supplies, or equipment on your grant. Contact your institutional business office to find out if this is possible.
Note that the grant does not start early for NIAID, and the renewal date stays the same.
"Is merit the primary criterion for awarding contracts?"—anonymous reader
That depends on the solicitation. Potential offerors should check Section M of the solicitation for the evaluation factors and their relative importance.
For R&D contracts, technical merit is usually the most important evaluation factor.
Most NIAID solicitations also include evaluation factors for best value. These include cost, past performance, and small disadvantaged business participation.
As noted in the above article "Why You May Want to Consider a Contract" review criteria are solicitation-specific.
See other announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.
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Last Updated May 23, 2012
Last Reviewed May 23, 2012