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We sincerely thank everyone who volunteered to serve on our review panels for expedited review of grant applications submitted for the funding opportunity announcement Emergency Awards: Antiviral Drug Discovery (AViDD) Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern (U19, Clinical Trial Not Allowed). Nearly 200 peer reviewers contributed to the effort!
The initiative leveraged expedited peer review, whereby reviewers committed unusually high levels of effort in a short time, while maintaining the high quality of standard NIH peer review, to help NIAID identify and fund key research on innovative antiviral drug development targeting coronaviruses and other select RNA viruses with pandemic potential. Each application proposed a center organized around an administrative core, multiple scientific cores, and a minimum of five independent research projects—which made for an especially complicated review process.
Read on to learn what the expedited peer review process entails and consider volunteering yourself.
Accelerated reviews and award processing are possible only through extraordinary levels of reviewer and NIAID staff effort in a highly compressed timeframe.
For context, here’s what it takes under ordinary circumstances. A typical review meeting requires months to organize and complete:
- Standard or predetermined due dates apply for review of the applications and the review meeting.
- NIAID Scientific Review Program (SRP) staff perform administrative review of submitted applications, identify and recruit appropriate reviewers, then vet the reviewers for potential conflicts of interest.
- Reviewers have several weeks to evaluate their assigned applications or proposals.
- Reviewers meet and discuss applications or proposals at the peer review meeting.
- SRP staff release summary statements or technical evaluation reports for grant applications or contract proposals, respectively.
In the case of the AViDD review meeting, SRP staff and peer reviewers completed each of the steps above, but they had to do so in half the usual time. All the same, staff and reviewers strictly followed all NIH policies, practices, and Core Values of Peer Review.
For example, since we sought to establish a network of centers to act as major hubs for antiviral drug development, recruiting reviewers with sufficient expertise but without any disqualifying conflicts of interest was a challenge. So SRP staff pre-recruited reviewers for the initiative and established a group of 610 reviewers ready to serve once the applications arrived.
Nearly 200 people within this group ended up serving on the review panel to evaluate the large and complex applications. Reviewers discussed the applications during a review meeting divided into five parts over the course of two weeks, with a majority of the reviewers present at each part of the meeting. After the review meeting, SRP staff completed summary statements in an expedited manner so that NIAID could make funding decisions and disburse support for the research.
Again, the Institute appreciates the time and effort reviewers devoted to ensure each application received a fair, comprehensive, and equal evaluation.
NIAID has an ongoing need for peer review volunteers. Fortunately, over the past two years, hundreds of researchers have offered to serve specifically in response to NIAID’s call to review thousands of proposed research projects related to COVID-19.
Given the multiple challenges researchers are already facing, we recognize volunteering as a reviewer is a significant commitment. To minimize the burden of time and effort, SRP conducts meetings virtually using phone, video, Internet Assisted Review, Virtual Meeting, or hybrid approaches.
Experienced investigators, donate your time and experience to a worthy cause by Serving on a Peer Review Committee. If you are early in your research career, even if you have never received NIH funding, you may also participate in one study section each year through the Center for Scientific Review’s Early Career Reviewer (ECR) Program.