NIAID Funding News August 3, 2016

Feature Articles

Opportunities and Resources

In The News

Advice Corner

New Funding Opportunities

Feature Articles

Preserving Paylines and Success Rates

A popular recommendation among NIH observers is that institutes should provide five-year budget outlooks, which would help investigators anticipate and prepare for budget changes. Unfortunately, there are too many variables for us to produce reliable forecasts, such as what funding levels Congress and the President will agree on, the number of grant applications we will receive annually, the change in average costs for those grants, and policy changes affecting the grant application and award process.

These same variables present a challenge in meeting our main budgetary goal: supporting a robust portfolio of investigator-initiated research and generating higher success rates by sustaining payline levels. In the absence of concrete, five-year projections, we instead forecast and plan for the unknown, setting conservative paylines at the beginning of the fiscal year and adjusting them upward until we reach an optimal payline.

Paylines exist as one way to fund the best science across multiple scientific areas as determined by peer review. This works in combination with percentiling, which ranks applications relative to others scored by the same study section at its last three meetings to guard against “score creep” within individual study sections. See NIAID Paylines for additional details.

In setting NIAID's paylines, staff take several factors into account, including our expected appropriation, application volume, and awarded grants' projected average costs. At the beginning of the fiscal year we set “provisional” paylines since there is uncertainty surrounding the factors mentioned above. For example, we frequently operate under a continuing resolution that provides funding at the same level as the previous year. Once a budget is passed, and we know more about the number of applications and their average cost, we adjust the payline. So far we have always been able to keep or raise the payline after a final appropriation is passed.

We have no evidence that applications submitted in the third review cycle benefit from higher paylines, so don’t try to time the submission of your application on the review cycle. An application from the first cycle that scores within NIAID’s final payline will still be considered for funding, even if it was beyond our interim payline at the time. The chart below shows how payline adjustments correspond to Council rounds and review cycles:

Council Review Cycle Payline
October 1st Interim
January 2nd Interim/Adjusted
May 3rd Final

See Overview of R01 Process to learn more about the funding timeline.

There are other budgetary tools NIAID uses to support a robust portfolio of investigator-initiated research for those applications that do not score within the payline. In the past, we’ve adjusted the amount of funding for R56-Bridge awards, selective pay, and competing research levels as necessary to optimize our paylines and success rates. We’ve also made uniform adjustments to both competing and noncompeting grants.

Read our March 23, 2016 article "NIAID Uses Selective Pay, Bridge Awards to Complement Top-Scoring Applications" to learn more about the cohesion among our various funding mechanisms.

So while NIAID cannot provide a long-term budget outlook, we do use the mechanisms available to us to create stable success rates at the highest paylines possible. To learn more about this topic, read Background on NIAID Funding Opportunity Planning and the Budget Cycle.

Opportunities and Resources

Look Into Primary Immunodeficiency Opportunities

If you’re planning primary immunodeficiency research, you may be interested in two reissued NIAID funding opportunity announcements (FOAs). As companions to a research project grant (R01) opportunity highlighted in "R01 Grants Still Available to Study Primary Immunodeficiency Diseases" from our March 18, 2015 issue, these FOAs offer alternatives if the R01 is not a good match for your project.

Both the exploratory/developmental grant (R21) and small grant (R03) opportunities linked below support ex vivo studies with human specimens and studies with current or new animal models, including novel clinical strategies for detecting, identifying the molecular basis of, or developing innovative therapies for primary immunodeficiency diseases.

The FOAs also encourage analyses of clinical data and samples maintained in primary immunodeficiency registries, consortium databases, and repositories to address questions relevant to primary immunodeficiency research. Neither supports clinical trials.

Which FOA Is Right for You?

Weigh the proposed type of research and budget requirements for your project against the following opportunities.

Exploratory/Developmental Investigations on Primary Immunodeficiency Diseases (R21)

Is your project exploratory and novel, or does it break new ground or extend previous discoveries toward new directions or applications? If so, an R21 may address your needs. All investigators, including those who have not received independent research funding from NIH, are new to the primary immunodeficiency research field, or are established in this field and have an exploratory or novel idea, are encouraged to apply.

Direct costs are limited to $275,000 over a two-year project period, with no more than $200,000 in direct costs allowed in any single year. NIH’s Standard Due Dates for Competing Applications apply.

For details of appropriate research areas as well as those that will not be supported by this FOA, read the July 19, 2016 Guide announcement.

Small Grants on Primary Immunodeficiency Diseases (R03)

Consider an R03 if you can complete your project on a budget of up to $50,000 in annual direct costs and within a two-year project period. Though this opportunity is open to investigators at all experience levels, NIAID encourages new investigators and those in the early phase of their independent research careers to apply.

Consult the July 19, 2016 Guide announcement for specific areas of research interest as well as those that will not be supported. Use NIH’s Standard Due Dates for Competing Applications.

For Additional Information

If you have questions, reach out to Dr. Frosso Voulgaropoulou, NIAID’s scientific/research contact for both FOAs.

In the News

News Briefs

New NIAID Website Almost Ready to Launch. 

The NIAID website rebuild is almost complete. The Institute plans to launch the new site in early September, with the goal of making it easier for you to find the research funding information, policy updates, and scientific career opportunities that you need. The new site will also be more tablet- and mobile-friendly, making it simpler to navigate no matter what device you’re using. 

As we lead up to this launch, we will need to temporarily cease posting new content (or updating existing content) on the site, starting next Monday, August 8. However, we’ll still publish a new issue of NIAID Funding News for you to read on August 24.  

Attend September Small Business Workshop in San Antonio, Texas. 

NIAID is one of four NIH institutes cohosting the NIH Multi-IC Small Business Workshop 2016, which will take place on September 7 and 8, in San Antonio, Texas. Attendees will learn about applying for and managing NIH small business grants, including policies and regulations unique to small businesses, and will have opportunities to meet with NIH staff. Conference Registration is free, so sign up now!

Change in Resources Available for Clinical Center Collaboration FOA. 

Investigators interested in Opportunities for Collaborative Research at the NIH Clinical Center (U01) and its companion opportunity Preapplication: Opportunities for Collaborative Research at the NIH Clinical Center (X02), take note: the good manufacturing practices and pharmacy facility for biological or clinical products is no longer available as a Clinical Center resource; however, a clinical biomechanics laboratory is now available. See the July 11, 2016 Guide notice for more information.

Advice Corner  

New Submissions of Unfunded Resubmissions Find Success at Normal Rate

Two years ago, NIH changed its resubmission* policy: Instead of having only one opportunity to resubmit an application, you can follow your unfunded resubmission (A1) with a new application (A0), and NIH does not require the second A0 to be significantly different from the unfunded A1. In essence, the second A0 is a “virtual A2,” presented to reviewers as an A0 although it is truly an A1 updated to address reviewer concerns.

To read the official policy, go to the April 17, 2014 Guide notice.

Enough time has passed for NIH to begin assessing the policy change. Dr. Michael Lauer, NIH deputy director for extramural research, recently published a blog post titled Outcomes for R01 “Virtual A2s,” which explores how well virtual A2s are doing in peer review and whether any identifiable factors make some virtual A2s more likely to score better than others.

You can visit the post linked above to review the investigation’s methodology and outcome; here we’ll skip to the conclusions. Dr. Lauer and his team found that:

“The percentage of virtual A2 applications that are funded is similar to that of de novo [new A0] applications. There does not appear to be any special advantage from previous submission and review. However, there does not appear to be any disadvantage either; it appears that the policy is allowing for a small, but real, number of second-time [A0 applications with content from a previous application] to get their chance.”

While there may not be a significant advantage in success rates of virtual A2s over other A0s, the policy has had a positive impact in reducing administrative burden. Applicants do not need to abandon meritorious aspects of their unfunded applications when submitting a subsequent application in order for it to be considered new. NIH staff are spared the task of ensuring that new A0s are significantly different from an applicant's past submissions. (However, staff will continue to perform Evaluation of Overlapping Applications.)

The analysis did not examine whether there was a difference in study section or funding opportunity (with or without set-aside funds) in the subsequent application or other factors that made a difference in virtual A2 success rates.

*For the purposes of this article, we are defining “resubmission” as any application, A0 or A1, that is revised and submitted subsequent to an initial submission. NIH formally defines “resubmission” as a revised A0 application that is submitted and designated as an A1 application, whereas an unfunded A0 application that is revised and submitted as another A0 is considered a new application (not a resubmission).

NIAID’s Advice on Resubmissions and Second A0 Applications

Our past advice about completing a resubmission remains unchanged. You need to address reviewer concerns, as listed in the summary statement (see Scoring & Summary Statements). Simply re-stating your original arguments without providing new data will not improve your score. You should also ask your program officer for feedback if he or she was present at a review meeting for the discussion of your application. Read How to Resubmit for more advice about improving your unfunded application following peer review.

While you should address reviewer critiques directly in an A1, NIH policy forbids you from indicating that your “virtual A2” is a resubmission. Submissions of an application after an unfunded A1 must be an A0 and prepared as a new application and submitted on the due date for new applications. You’ll need to remove any references to past resubmissions and reviews, as explained in our article “Follow the Rules for New Applications—Or Else.”

If you go on to submit a “virtual A3,” which would appear to reviewers as an A1, you can address the previous review directly but not any reviews and submissions preceding that. Unfortunately we don’t yet have reliable data on the success rates of virtual A3s.

Broadly speaking, you should submit a new A0 if your overall impact/priority score was competitive and the reviewers were generally supportive of your proposal, so long as you are diligent in addressing any shortcomings identified in peer review.

Before you begin an A0 application in the same vein as a prior application, you need to take a hard look at whether another attempt using the same idea is likely to result in funding. Consider adjusting or completely overhauling your proposal as needed.

Even if you submit your previously reviewed application as new (an A0), it may go to the same study section and reviewers are likely to remember it from before. You won't have the benefit of an introduction to address the previous comments. Therefore, make sure you have taken reviewers' suggestions into consideration when writing your application.

If you decide to continue, follow the FOA's procedures for new applications. Don't respond directly to comments from prior reviews—just use them to improve the application. Omit the introduction, and for a renewal application also omit the progress report. Confirm you still meet any eligibility criteria (career stage or other qualifiers). Get prior approvals again as required, as described in the Big Grants SOP and Conference Awards SOP. Finally, allow sufficient time to prepare your application as if it were brand new since there could be changes in policies and forms that you need to address since you last applied.

Reader Questions

 Feel free to send us a question at After responding to you, we may ask your permission to include your question in the newsletter, incorporate it into the NIAID Research Funding site, or both.

“Are my application and grant confidential?”—anonymous reader

NIH and its institutes follow strict rules to protect confidentiality for unfunded applications.

Members of peer review committees must leave the room during discussions of grant applications or contract proposals in which they or close associates have an interest that could bias their evaluations. Reviewers may not take materials from peer review and use them without attribution.

If your application is funded, NIH makes the title and abstract public through RePORTER. You should not put confidential or proprietary information in those sections. For advice on preparing your abstract, see Hone Your Abstract and Narrative in Write Your Research Plan.

Most other grant and contract materials are confidential, including progress reports, contract proposals, and proceedings of review meetings.

For more information, go to these resources:

“Is an O-1 visa holder eligible to be the principal investigator on an R01 application?”—anonymous reader

For any funding opportunity announcement (FOA) of interest, you can read Section III. Eligibility Information in the FOA to see if there are any special requirements regarding the principal investigator’s citizenship. Most opportunities don't require citizenship.

As an example, if you wanted to apply using the NIH Research Project Grant (Parent R01), the Eligibility Information does not list any citizenship requirements as a criterion for eligible individuals, so an O-1 visa would be fine.

For a contrasting example, see the NIAID Career Transition Award (K22), which in the Eligibility Information section states: "By the time of award, the individual must be a citizen or a non-citizen national of the United States or have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence (i.e., possess a currently valid Permanent Resident Card USCIS Form I-551, or other legal verification of such status)."

New Funding Opportunities 

See other announcements at NIAID Funding Opportunities List.​​

Content last reviewed on August 3, 2016