Reviewing NIAID’s Application and Award Counts for FY 2022

Funding News Edition: February 15, 2023
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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in cross-section landing on the surface of a human respiratory endothelial cell. Single stranded RNA (colorized purple) is shown wrapped around a nuclear protein core capped by large L proteins.

If you’re deciding which activity code to use for an investigator-initiated application, the size and scope of your project, rather than presumed success rates, should determine which mechanism you use.

Credit: NIAID

We routinely share the number of R01-equivalent* and R21 applications that NIAID received in the previous fiscal year (FY) as well as how many awards NIAID made in turn. To add context, we present the data alongside the same figures for the preceding 4 years.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted NIAID’s research funding, interrupting what had been clear trendlines of steadily increasing application and award counts from FY 2013 through FY 2019. It is difficult now to identify patterns or project future trends, given the unique circumstances of the past 3 years.

Having identified that major qualification, we proceed below with our usual presentation of application counts, paylines, award counts, and success rates.

Application Counts

  FY 2018 FY 2019 FY 2020 FY 2021 FY 2022
R01-Equivalent 2,902 3,225 3,503 3,981 3,475
R21 2,632 2,530 2,728 4,152 2,845

In FY 2022, the number of R01-equivalent applications dropped by 12.7 percent from the FY 2021 total, but only by 0.8 percent in comparison to the FY 2020 total—more in line with pre-pandemic application counts. Compared to the FY 2021 total, the number of R21 applications decreased by 31.5 percent in FY 2022, though still an increase of 4.3 percent compared to FY 2020.

FY 2021 marked the second time in recent decades that the number of incoming R21 applications surpassed the number of R01-equivalent applications (FY 2017 being the other instance), although that outcome did not reoccur in FY 2022.

Next, consider our paylines for R01 and R21 grant applications over the last 5 years. Remember that the R01 paylines are calculated as percentiles while the R21 paylines are determined as overall impact scores, as explained at Understand Paylines and Percentiles.


  FY 2018 FY 2019 FY 2020 FY 2021 FY 2022
R01 13 14 14 14 12
R21 32 31 31 31 28

For both the R01 and R21 activity codes, FY 2022 was a down year that interrupted a general trend of flat paylines since FY 2018. In a broader view, the R01 payline set at 14 in FY 2019 through FY 2021 represented our R01 payline’s highest point since FY 2007. The R21 payline of 32 in FY 2018 was the highest R21 payline of the past 13 years.

The complement of a lower payline is greater flexibility for NIAID to direct support to high-priority scientific topics. In FY 2022 specifically, the Institute needed to respond to the mpox (formerly monkeypox) outbreak, new disease targets set by Congress, and other obligations tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keep in mind, the R01 paylines listed above are for established investigators. NIAID sets a separate payline for new and early-stage investigators, usually four percentiles higher than the R01 payline for established investigators.

Given those yearly paylines, NIAID funded the following numbers of awards:

Award Counts

  FY 2018 FY 2019 FY 2020 FY 2021 FY 2022
R01-Equivalent 648 665 802 636 576
R21 566 530 619 662 401

NIAID issued more R01-equivalent and R21 awards (combined) in FY 2020 than in any other year, ever. Unfortunately, the count of new R01-equivalent awards in FY 2022 dropped by 9.4 percent compared to FY 2021 and the number of R21 awards in FY 2022 dropped by 39.4 percent compared to FY 2021.

To be clear, the figures in the preceding table are for new awards, not all active awards. In recent years, NIAID’s total funding commitment for research project grants (RPGs), including R01 and R21 awards, has steadily increased. NIH maintains an interactive chart at Research Project Grants: Funding, by Institute/Center which allows you to explore RPG funding across time and at each NIH institute; a screenshot of NIAID’s total funding support for its RPG portfolio is below.

Screenshot of NIH RePORT display of NIAID funding for RPGs over time, which shows a steadily increasing amount over several decades.

The tables above combine to yield the following success rates:

Success Rates (in percentage)

  FY 2018 FY 2019 FY 2020 FY 2021 FY 2022
R01-Equivalent 22.3 20.6 22.9 16.0 16.6
R21 21.5 21.0 22.7 15.9 14.1

Despite there being fewer R01-equivalent awards in FY 2022, when set against the volume of incoming applications, the success rate for applicants was slightly higher in FY 2022 than FY 2021, though not back to the levels typical before the COVID-19 pandemic. For R21 award applicants, FY 2022’s success rate was lower than that of FY 2021, itself a departure from higher R21 success rates before the pandemic.

We often hear potential applicants speculate that an R21 award is easier to get, but recent success rates for the two activity codes don’t validate that claim. If you’re deciding which activity code to use for an investigator-initiated application, the size and scope of your project (e.g., cost and time requirements), rather than presumed success rates, should determine which mechanism you use—see Comparing Popular Research Project Grants—R01, R03, and R21.

This Year

Looking ahead, the FY 2023 interim R01 payline for established investigators is currently set at the 11 percentile. The FY 2023 interim R21 payline is set at an overall impact score of 27. Most years, our final paylines are higher than the interim paylines we set at the start of the fiscal year (when, often, we are operating under a continuing resolution). For more on our budget process, read NIAID Paylines and Budget Information Changes Throughout the Year.

Remember, success rates are the quotient of dividing an award count by the corresponding application count. We don’t yet know how many applications NIAID will receive in FY 2023. Congress appropriated NIAID’s overall budget at the end of December (a 3.8 percent increase from FY 2022), and the Institute updated its Financial Management Plan accordingly. Currently, we estimate success rates for R01-equivalent and R21 applications will be between 18 and 22 percent this fiscal year.

*In this article, “R01-equivalent” combines the R01 and Method to Extend Research in Time Award (R37) activity codes. Note that, in other contexts, NIAID and others may include additional activity codes when tabulating “R01-equivalent.”

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